Mea­sur­ing up

Bill would make stu­dents’ weight school busi­ness

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Jenny Thompson

Politi­cians and par­ents of­ten bat­tle over who should be re­spon­si­ble for the phys­i­cal health of chil­dren, and a new bill work­ing its way through the Ge­or­gia Gen­eral As­sem­bly will no doubt add more fod­der to the fire.

The Stu­dent Health and Phys­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion (SHAPE) Act, re­cently passed by the state se­nate, would re­quire school sys­tems des­ig­nate em­ploy­ees at each school to con­duct and re­port body mass in­dex of all stu­dents in the dis­trict to the state twice a year. It still must pass the House and be signed by Gov­er­nor Sonny Per­due.

Linda Hay­den, New­ton County Schools’ as­so­ci­ate su­per­in­ten­dent for cur­ricu­lum and in­struc­tion, said the sys­tem is not cur­rently re­quired to mea­sure body mass in­dex.

She said el­e­men­tary school stu­dents in Ge­or­gia are re­quired to have 60 hours of phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion in­struc­tion an­nu­ally.

“There are no re­quire­ments for mid­dle school stu­dents for P.E.,” Hay­den said. “High school stu­dents have to take one unit for grad­u­a­tion.”

Sen­a­tor John Douglas (R-COv­ing­ton) serves on the se­nate’s ed­u­ca­tion and youth com­mit­tee where the bill was fa­vor­ably re­ceived. How­ever, Douglas was one of 13 sen­a­tors who voted against the bill.

“I frankly don’t think it’s the school’s busi­ness,” Douglas said. “It’s the stu­dents’ busi­ness and the stu­dents’ par­ents.

“I wouldn’t want the schools to mea­sure my daugh­ter, al­though she is very thin, I should be the one who has to worry about that.”

He said he is also con­cerned about the vague­ness of the word­ing of the bill as well as its omis­sion of fund­ing lan­guage.

The bill, SB 506, in­tro­duced by Ma­jor­ity Leader Joseph Carter, cre­ates a new po­si­tion at the State De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to co­or­di­nate fit­ness ac­tiv­i­ties and make the data avail­able to the pub­lic through the de­part­ment’s Web site.

Al­though the bill states recog­ni­tion of healthy school zones will be co­or­di­nated by the new of­fi­cial at the de­part­ment of ed­u­ca­tion, it does not say what penal­ties might be in­curred by be­ing deemed an un­healthy school zone.

“An­other con­cern I have is the time it would take time to mea­sure ev­ery stu­dent,” Douglas said. “When you mea­sure ev­ery stu­dent in, say, a school as big as one of our high schools, that’s go­ing to take a lot of time.”

His last con­cern was about po­ten­tial lit­i­ga­tion since the bill does not re­quire sys­tems to re­ceive parental con­sent forms in or­der to mea­sure stu­dents.

New­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mem­bers share many of Douglas’ con­cerns.

“I think the sen­ti­ment of the bill is well in­tended,” said board mem­ber C.C. Bates. “I think the health­ier our bod­ies are, the health­ier our minds are.

“My con­cerns de­spite the in­ten­tions of the bill, how­ever, are many.”

Bates said she was con­cerned about what the mea­sur­ing might do to chil­dren’s self-es­teems.

“I would hate to think that man­dated BMI test­ing con­trib­uted to a mid­dle or high school girl’s eat­ing dis­or­der,” Bates said. “The idea of la­bel­ing a school as an un­healthy school zone is also a lit­tle trou­bling.

“I think teach­ers have enough pres­sure on them with­out adding this.”

Board mem­ber Cathy Dobbs said the school sys­tem al­ready mea­sures stu­dents’ height and weight and wanted to know how the data will be used other than to re­port sta­tis­tics.

“I also have some reser­va­tions about not ask­ing per­mis­sion of par­ents for this test,” Dobbs said, “as a BOE mem­ber I can see a law­suit wait­ing to hap­pen, and law­suits mean tax dol­lars spent.”

She added new nu­tri­tion guide­lines adopted by the dis­trict have made steps to­ward of­fer­ing health­ier meal choices in schools.

School Nu­tri­tion Di­rec­tor Jan Loomans said fed­eral reg­u­la­tions do ex­ist re­gard­ing the calo­rie and calo­rie from fat in­take in school meals.

“ For break­fast the meal should av­er­age, over a week, 554 calo­ries per break­fast and 18.5 grams of fat,” Loomans said. “At lunch, for el­e­men­tary school the meal has to av­er­age 664 calo­ries with 22 grams of fat, again av­er­aged over the week.

“For mid­dle and high school stu­dents the calo­ries are 825 with 27.5 grams of fat.”

Loomans said al­though cur­rent reg­u­la­tions do not spec­ify what sweets can and can­not be served in the schools, sweets served must fall within the calo­rie and fat guide­lines.

Low- fat cook­ies and ice cream as well as frozen fruit cups are of­fered in New­ton County Schools. Ac­cord­ing to Loomans, sweets are not served more than twice a week.

New Amer­i­can Bev­er­age As­so­ci­a­tion guide­lines man­date what drinks can be served in school vend­ing ma­chines and cafe­te­rias.

In el­e­men­tary schools, bot­tled wa­ter, 8-ounce serv­ings of milk and 100 per­cent juice with no added sweet­en­ers can be served. Fla­vored milk must have no more than 150 calo­ries in an 8-ounce serv­ing.

Mid­dle school guide­lines are the same as in ele­men- tary schools, ex­cept juice and milk may be sold in 10-ounce serv­ings.

At the high school level 12ounce serv­ings of milk and juice are al­lowed as long as they ad­here to the 150 calo­rie per 8-ounce guide­line, as well as no- or low-calo­rie bev­er­ages with up to 10 calo­ries per 8-ounce serv­ing.

Th­ese guide­lines do not ap­ply to af­ter-school events where par­ents and other adults are part of an au­di­ence.

Loomans also said New­ton County Schools have stopped serv­ing fried foods and only two schools in the county even house in­op­er­a­tive fry­ers any­more.

“We have posters re­gard­ing milk in most of the schools, but re­ally need to in­crease the nu­tri­tion ed­u­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion that we have in the schools.”

Loomans said she is also work­ing on sev­eral nu­tri­tion aware­ness cam­paigns for the schools for next school year.

Bates said she hopes the board will soon ap­prove send­ing fly­ers de­tail­ing the health and well­ness pro­grams of­fered by the Cov­ing­ton YMCA.

Douglas said if SB 506 passes in the House, the gov­er­nor has 30 days to sign or veto the bill af­ter the end of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, which could see the bill take ef­fect next school year.

“I would sug­gest to cit­i­zens that if they don’t like the bill,” Douglas said, “that they call one of their lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives and tell them about it.”

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Stay­ing fit: McKen­zie Row­land, a third grade stu­dent from Rocky Plains El­e­men­tary School, jumps rope in the school gym­na­sium Tues­day.

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