Ontario teacher found guilty of misconduct for pushing anti-vaccination views
Science teacher Timothy Sullivan shouted at a public health nurse administering vaccines at his high school and told students they could die if they take the vaccine.
An Ontario high school teacher, who disrupted a vaccine clinic and told students vaccinations could lead to death, stormed out of a disciplinary hearing after being found guilty of professional misconduct by the Ontario College of Teachers on Wednesday.
Timothy Sullivan left the room following the verdict, as the college’s counsel presented the proposed penalty.
A penalty has not yet been determined.
Christine Wadsworth, counsel for the college, proposed that Sullivan’s teaching certificate be suspended for a month, that he enroll in and complete courses in professional boundaries, professional ethics and anger management, and that a reprimand be given in person at the Ontario College of Teachers.
During the second day of a two-day disciplinary hearing, Sullivan, who represented himself, provided testimony in his defense. He explained that he visited the vaccination clinic at his school three times on March 9, 2015.
During his visits, Sullivan said he asked for the inserts included in vaccine packages which list side effects and asked the nurses about whether they informed students of all the side effects.
During the first day of the hearing, Angela Swick, a registered nurse with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, who was administering vaccines at Sullivan’s high school on the day of the incident, said she felt “threatened” by Sullivan when he visited the clinic.
She testified that Sullivan “asked kids if they knew what was in this vaccine and shouted at them not to get it.”
During Sullivan’s testimony, he said he never explicitly told students not to get their shots, but rather told them he “would not get vaccinated (himself) without knowing what was inside it and what its side effects were.”
“I work in a school where I’m responsible for young people. What was taking place 10 steps from my door was assault and battery. I had an obligation to go do something about it.”
He also denied shouting at the nurses, like Swick claimed.
“It wasn’t the way I asked the questions, it was the content of the questions that made the nurses uncomfortable,” Sullivan said.
He argued that what he did was out of concern for his students and his belief that they could not provide informed consent without knowing all of the possible side effects of the vaccinations.
“I felt it was my role to make students aware of possible side effects,” Sullivan said. “I’m negligent if I don’t point out different side effects of products. I’m responsible for every student in the school.”
He added: “It was actually one of the most professional things I did, making students aware of the side effects.”
Wadsworth, the counsel for the college, said it was not Sullivan’s place to have this conversation with students.
“It’s not a conversation that an activist teacher should take upon himself to have whenever he likes,” Wadsworth said during her closing argument.
Former principal of the school, Brian Quistberg, testified on Tuesday that concerns about Sullivan bringing up anti-vaccination views have come up in the past. One incident that Quistberg notified the school board about occurred earlier in 2015, when one student left Sullivan’s class in tears after giving a presentation on vaccinations.
Sullivan said Quistberg put him “in an impossible position, telling me not to talk about vaccines when they’re part of the curriculum and I have a number of students asking about them.”
The college’s counsel, Wadsworth, also raised issue with Sullivan leaving his class unsupervised while visiting the clinic to gather inserts on the vaccines.
“There’s concern leaving any class,” Quistberg said during his testimony. “Specifically science is a little higher risk because of gas, equipment, etc. It’s a safety concern.”
“The risk of leaving a group of grade 11 students for two minutes was worth it,” Sullivan said.
Wadsworth said despite Sullivan’s intentions and beliefs, that “doesn’t actually change the conduct of how things played out on March 9th.”
“He is entitled to his own personal opinions even if they’re controversial, even if they’re not supported by a wide scientific body of evidence but a line needs to be drawn when personal opinions affect his ability to perform his job as a teacher.”
The council has given Sullivan until March 8, 2017 to either provide a written submission or to schedule a date with the hearing coordinator for an in-person penalty hearing. After that, a penalty can be settled on.