A story in USA Today last Friday serves as a reminder that schools really have no compelling reason for collecting height, weight and other medical information from students. Ireleand Hobart-Hoch is a 13-year-old student at Southeast Polk Jr. High School in Pleasant Hill, IA. During PE class her class was weighed. When it was time to have her teacher weigh her in front of the entire class she said no. Even after her classmates told her to just get it over with she still resisted. Even though her teacher wasn’t broadcasting the results to the class, but I commend Miss Hobart-Hoch for standing up for her right to privacy and doing it in a respectful manner.
Her teacher sent her to the principal’s office as a result. Really? A student who wants to exercise her right to privacy is a seen as a discipline problem? Hobart-Hoch said in an interview that only her mom and a her doctor need to know her weight. I agree.
Students’ height and weight are collected to determine body mass index (BMI) in order to help combat obesity which I would argue is not the role of a school. Public schools are struggling in fulfilling their primary mission of providing a quality education for their students. They are not a medical clinic, they are not a social services center, and we must stop treating them as such. The school does not need to know the height, weight, or any medical information of the students that attend that is not absolutely necessary to ensure student safety (ie. allergies, medical conditions that could impact school day, etc.). Beyond that schools don’t need to collect any information that is not needed to help student advance educationally.
What’s worse is that Hoch is now being labeled in the media, by her school’s staff, as having a body image problem.
The district also uses the data to assess its physical education programs to make sure they are helping students, said Jo Ellen Latham, Southeast Polk’s curriculum director.
Ireland isn’t backing down, however. She said the documents with weight figures sometimes end up in other students’ hands.
“I think there are some body image issues with this girl,” Latham said. “The more attention to it, the more it challenges her.” (emphasis mine)
At the very least Latham owes this girl a public apology. What an outrageous thing to say to the press defending what is really indefensible. I would go as far to say Latham needs to face formal discipline. You don’t disparage or head shrink your students in the press because they don’t want the school weighing them. What a horrible response.
Hobart-Hoch’s principal’s response isn’t much better.
Southeast Polk Junior High Principal Mike Dailey said he has received no other complaints about the BMI test.
He said the weight information is private, and other students couldn’t see it because they were 5 to 10 feet away. The figures are viewed only by a physical education teacher to assess the child’s health, along with measures of strength, cardiovascular condition and flexibility.
Perhaps the response of the school administration is why parents don’t speak up because they don’t want to be marginalized or bullied. This practice must stop. Schools need to focus on education, not collecting this kind of data from kids. Maybe Southeast Polk can start to lead the way in demonstrating proper boundaries for a school after this incident.