One line in the article was the source for considerable outrage. The Globe reported:
The state’s public health commissioner, John Auerbach, said he believes the financial cost to school districts will be nominal, in part because many were already weighing and measuring students annually.
One school committee member from the North Shore wrote,
“Will Mr. Auerbach be paying for the postage to mail this information home, because due to HIPPA regulations, the letters cannot and should not be hand carried by students to the home. We will be cutting our postage budget line. And, I sat through a budget hearing the other night where we discussed making sure that parents and teachers know which brand and weight of paper will work in our copy machines because, since we’ll cut our supplies by 25%, we won’t have enough paper for our work and everyone is going to be asked to donate two reams of paper (to begin with). Yes, that is how ludacrous things are already getting.
School committee members are openly talking about ignoring this “mandate,” citing both the cost and the lack of authority of the health council over local school districts. School committee member Jeffrey Roy of Franklin included this detail in a recent blog post. Click the link for an even more extensive discussion of the issue.
The Council lacks authority over local school committees. By statute (G.L. c. 111, § 3), the Council “shall make and promulgate rules and regulations, take evidence in appeals, consider plans and appointments required by law, hold hearings, and discharge other duties required by law; but it shall have no administrative or executive functions.” This lack of administrative or executive functions calls into question the Council’s ability to tell local school committees what to do. Moreover, the proposed mandates appear to conflict with G.L. c. 71. § 37, which provides that School Committees shall have the power “to establish educational goals and policies for the schools in the district, consistent with the requirements of law and state-wide goals and standards established by the Board of Education.” (emphasis supplied). The Council rules and regulations are not established by the Board of Education and appear to go beyond what is set forth in G.L. c. 71, § 57.
The proposed regulations will violate students’ rights to privacy, will be embarrassing to children, and represent just one more parental responsibility being laid in the lap of public education.
The proposed regulations lack funding to implement the program and address the underlying problem of obesity. To make the regulations work districts will need to establish a system (computer software or otherwise) to calculate BMI, and to write and store letters to parents. Then each district will need to pay for printing the letters, the interpretive material, and the postage. For a district like Franklin with over 6,200 students, those are sizable expenses which will take away from other educational needs at a time when budgets are already strained. And once the problem is identified schools lack the resources to do anything about it.
The regulations duplicate the efforts of pediatric visits. Indeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement strongly encouraging pediatricians “to incorporate assessment and anticipatory guidance about diet, weight, and physical activity into routine clinical practice…” And this would include BMI screening in a non-judgmental manner. And since Massachusetts already requires everyone to have health insurance, students can be screened by their own doctors in the privacy of the clinical setting.
The regulations do not provide means for addressing the problem of obesity. In communities throughout Massachusetts, budget cuts have led to the reduction and/or elimination of health and physical education programs. Thus, it is no surprise that we have an obesity problem. For something truly productive, the Council should provide funds so that the schools can offer more health and PE classes.
This one’s not over.