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CONVERSATIONS: High School Health Teacher Considers How To Side-Step Coronavirus Politics

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Vinek Blanding, health teacher at Wekiva High School, feels mask-wearing and the vaccine now are so politicized, a lesson on the coronavirus could be problematic. Photo courtesy Vinek Blanding

It’s a month and a half into another unprecedented academic year. Schools have been reporting record numbers of coronavirus cases, and a battle is raging over masks in classrooms.

WMFE’s Amy Green talked with Wekiva High School health teacher Vinek Blanding about how Covid-19 and the politicized debate over masking are impacting students.

BLANDING: Last year I did a lesson on the coronavirus. I had the kids do a one-page research paper on the coronavirus. They had to incorporate statistics, their opinion. And when I did the lesson the vaccine was not out yet. So they also had to incorporate whether they feel like they will take the vaccine if it’s offered or if their family members will take the vaccine. So it went fairly well, and we had a class discussion on it.

This year, because of the politics around the vaccine and wearing masks, I’m a little hesitant about doing the doing the lesson this year because I think it’s more political than health-related now.

GREEN: When you talked about the coronavirus with your class last year, what kind of questions did the students have about it?

BLANDING: Where did it originate from? You know, would they have a cure soon? They had quite a few questions about the vaccine. They also had questions about different symptoms. So that’s why I had them research it, and then we had a class discussion on it after we researched it.

GREEN: What are you afraid might happen if you tried to teach that lesson with your class this year?

BLANDING: I think if I tried to do the lesson again this year, I think it would turn into more of a political conversation as it relates to who’s Democrat and who’s Republican as opposed to a health question, or just keeping it health-related. Because they have made the vaccination and mask-wearing so political now, I think it will be very difficult for me to have the conversation and in my classroom and it not turn into a political debate.

GREEN: How do you think students are doing this academic year? How do you think they’re coping with the coronavirus cases and the battle over masks? Do your students seem anxious or angry or oblivious about everything? Do they have questions for you about what’s going on?

BLANDING: It’s definitely affected me as a health teacher, honestly, because I’m not able to, or not necessarily not able to. But I don’t feel comfortable right now talking about wearing a mask or vaccine or the coronavirus because it’s so political. Because I don’t want it to turn into a political debate and I give my opinion on whether we should wear masks, whether we should get vaccinated. And then one of my students goes home and complains to their parents about the conversation or the class discussion. And then it’s a problem because, you know, some parents may feel like I’m, you know, forcing my opinion on them.

So I think it’s not really fair that, you know, I’m feeling this way, honestly. And maybe my kids feel like they can’t come to their health teacher and talk about vaccination and mask-wearing because it’s so political.

GREEN: I’ve been speaking with Vinek Blanding, health teacher at Wekiva High School. Thanks for joining us.

BLANDING: Thank you for having me. Alright.

That was WMFE’s Amy Green. 

If you are a central Florida educator with a story to share about how the coronavirus is affecting your classroom, please reach out at agreen@wmfe.org

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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment and climate change at WMFE News. She is an award-winning journalist and author whose extensive reporting on the Everglades is featured in the book MOVING WATER, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and podcast DRAINED, available wherever you get your podcasts. Amy’s ... Read Full Bio »