By Steven Hoffman
The Oxford Area School District is changing how students are notified about their weight, height, and Body Mass Index (BMI) after several parents shared their concerns about the protocols that the district had been using.
Sarah Dal Porto, a registered nurse at AI du Pont Hospital for Children at Nemours, took her concerns to the Oxford School Board on March 11 when she explained that her daughter was given a letter at school that contained information about her height, weight, and Body Mass Index. The form letter had categories that identified the student as “underweight,” “average,” or “obese” based on recommended standards.
Dal Porto said that the letter causes emotional distress and lasting wounds for her daughter and other students. She urged the district to stop sending these letters home with students.
“The problems with this practice are many,” Del Porto said. “The letters should be sent to the parent, not given to the student. They can use the terminology that they are using if they send the letter to the parents. The district needs to change the policy.”
School districts in Pennsylvania track weight, height, and specifically the Body Mass Index in an effort to fight against childhood obesity. Periodic updates about these statistics are shared with parents or guardians.
Del Porto said that her daughter is a black belt in karate and a softball player and is very active. She is older now and won’t let the letter affect her the same way that she would have when she was a few years younger. Even so, she cautioned that the letter can impact how youngsters view themselves.
“In our society right now, kids are bombarded with unrealistic body images,” she said.
Angela Jumper said that the letter left her seven-year-old daughter in tears.
“She said, ‘Mommy, I got a very upsetting letter. This letter tells me that I’m fat. I want to cut my body to make me skinny.’”
“This has affected my daughter more than the school district knows,” Jumper continued. “She’s seven years old. She was sitting in the backseat crying. This should have never happened to my daughter. This should have never happened to any child.”
Jumper agreed with Del Porto and said that the information should be shared with parents by mailing letters home or posting the information online for parents to access their own child’s information.
The parents also talked about how students are called in to get weighed with other students right there when the weights are announced. This opens the students up to ridicule. They suggested having the students’ weights kept private.
Del Porto said that AI du Pont Hospital for Children officials will provide parents with information about resources that are available to them to get their child’s weight into the recommended range. She suggested that the school district do the same.
School district officials were quick to respond to the concerns. According to superintendent David Woods, they were in the process of making changes to the protocols even before Del Porto and Jumper brought their concerns to the school board on March 11. Del Porto and Jumper had alerted him to the practices that concerned them, and he had already decided to have district officials notify parents about the Body Mass Index results either by mail or email, depending on the parents’ preference. The district will also include information about why the Body Mass Index is being measured and offer parents information about resources that are available to seek assistance if they think it is necessary.
Board member Gary Olson said that the district’s Policy Committee will also be discussing this issue at its next meeting to see if more changes need to take place.