Monday, January 08, 2007

That's a Lot of Paper

BARNSTABLE -- Almost 140 Hyannis Elementary School students went home last week with letters implying that they might be at risk for becoming underweight or overweight after a height-and-weight screening. The screening is the result of a federal law that requires schools to implement programs aimed at "wellness." The programs also include vision and hearing tests.

Some parents are angry, The Cape Cod Times reported yesterday. Vicki Elliott, whose 4-foot-tall, 66-pound daughter was sent home with a letter warning that she was "at risk of becoming overweight," said the letter singles out children about a sensitive issue. And, Elliott said, it's none of the school's business. "She probably can eat healthier, but that's for the doctor and me to decide, not the school nurse," Elliott said.

The school nurse, Stacey Shakel, said the letter had been meant as an education tool, not an insult. The screening determines body mass index; a high number does not necessarily mean a student is overweight, she said, especially for athletes. "It's simply a red flag, potentially, in relation to chronic diseases," Shakel said.

In addition, state law requires that a school notify parents of children who are overweight or underweight, or who may be at risk of becoming so. About half of the Hyannis school's students got letters. Elliott's third-grade daughter does not think she's overweight, Elliott said, adding that reading the letter upset her. "I don't agree with the policy," she said, "but if you're going to do it, don't send [the letter] home with the kids."

The Barnstable school district conducts height and weight screening on students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Superintendent Patricia Grenier said that the district could not afford to mail all the letters, and that in the end there's a payoff. "Healthy children learn better," she said.

As a former fat kid who is now the parent of a very thin kid, I cannot imagine that this practice is a good one. Do they really think thin or fat kids don't already know they are not of an average weight? And if they don't, why single them out? It's so stupid. At least put it in the mail rather than handing the "weight problem" letters out in class for the skinny and fat kids to take home. Hell, if they'd been sending frequent letters home every time someone thought a kid was fat back in my day, I'd probably have lost weight carrying all that paperwork. But I'd have wanted to open a vein too at the embarrassment. It was already horrifying enough to have to get scoliosis testing done with the school nurse telling me my spine was great but I just had "some extra skin" on my back. Or wearing not Jordache jeans but Sears "Pretty Plus" and boys Husky jeans with the legs cut short. Or not knowing until 8th grade that I had a thing called a clavicle, having never seen it before losing weight.

The best part is the last sentence: Superintendent Patricia Grenier said that the district could not afford to mail all the letters, and that in the end there's a payoff. "Healthy children learn better..."

So you have the money to do all this unsolicited BMI testing, but not to put stamps on some letters?! And what about healthy kids learning better? I was a totally fat kid and I seemed to learn just fine, having made straight A's my entire school career (in fact, don't fat dorkiness and good grades usually go together?). I can absolutely assure you that I "learned better" than all those thin girls in 7th grade who were already giving boys blow jobs. Where were THOSE letters to the parents, huh?

This is well-intentioned stupidity. If you want to send a general letter about BMIs go ahead. If you want to send a general letter about kids getting it on at the age of 12, go ahead. But until you call up the blowers and the blowees for their own special letter regarding good health and wellness, don't torture the fatties. They will always be my peeps, no matter how thin I ever am, because once you live through childhood as a "pretty plus" (especially in a world where the school thinks you need a special letter) you never, never get over it.


Raine said...

Is it too late to put Wellness letters on notice?

Anonymous said...

I think you're wrong on this one. Many of the clueless parents haven't a clue about fitness and eating properly (they assume their kids have PE like they did 25 or 30 years ago) and could use the wake-up call from the school. Don't we want schools/teachers/doctors/legislators to care? I want them to offer hot lunch and Head Start and extra help to kids who need it. I want them to care about my kids' arteries, just like I want them to have robust health/sex ed curriculum. Unlike you, many kids who are overweight, are so from high sugar and carb intake. By 2 hours into the school day, they're not paying much attention or learning (the whole point of school). The whiny mom in the article blew an opportunity to discuss health with her daughter and dwells on the "feels bad" stuff. Even she admits the child could make better choices (doesn't that accomplish what the school wanted?)! I agree that schools should also send home the "risky business" letters too. According to the teachers I know, most teachers and parents use email to communicate regularly. Use the postage for the offline families.