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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The NFF supports LB 29

The Nebraska Family Forum supports Sen. Beau McCoy’s Legislative Bill 29.

LB 29 amends state statute 79-248, reversing the authority previously given to DHHS  to “inspect” public school children for any condition they wish. 

Currently, 79-248 mandates that school districts cause children to be inspected for sight, hearing and dental.  At some point, the statute was amended to read “or other conditions as prescribed by the Department of Health and Human Services.”  These 13 words give DHHS the authority to “inspect” our children for anything they want simply by writing a regulation and telling the schools they must implement it.

Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, DHHS decided to inspect children for height, weight and BMI--very personal medical information normally discussed between a child, parent and doctor.  This is an issue that usually doesn’t directly affect school or require accommodations, such as hearing or vision might.  But that doesn’t matter; all DHHS has to do is pass a new regulation and let the schools know they’re required to carry it out, at the school district’s expense.

The collection of BMI data in the public schools poses several concerns:

First of all, it is widely known that BMI alone is an inaccurate measure of health, particularly for athletes.  This is certainly the case with my own son, who is considered overweight despite being in excellent physical shape and despite every one of his ribs being visible.  My son is a perfect example that BMI can often be a meaningless number.

Secondly, weight is a very personal thing.  That’s why many of us lie about it on our driver’s licenses!  But according to the DHHS regulation any “competent person” can do the BMI checks, including other kids’ parents who are not bound by HIPAA or FERPA privacy laws.

There was a fiasco at Millard South when 10th graders were lined up and weighed and then their results were discussed within earshot of other kids.  With the excessive focus on “being skinny” in our society these days, teenage girls already struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, and this type of thing is just a disaster waiting to happen. 

Third, there is no clarity on where the data is going or what it is being used for.  There seems to be no plan for targeted intervention for kids who are overweight or underweight.  I contend the BMI regulation is just data collection, plain and simple.  Although this is only speculation on my part, something is very odd about this particular regulation.  Why can we opt our kids out of vaccines, which could be a potential public health hazard, but we can’t opt our kids out of BMI collection?  You don’t have to get your child the polio vaccine, but you’re forced to have his BMI put into a database?  Something’s wrong with this picture.

In my own school district, nothing is even being done with the numbers that DHHS claims are being used to “help” kids.  They’re not notifying parents or students of the results, they are just putting the information into a database.  What is the purpose of that?

I read the regulation located on DHHS’s website and it only adds to the confusion.  It appears that since DHHS claims there is a childhood obesity epidemic in the United States, they need  to collect data to show that there’s a childhood obesity epidemic in the United States.  (Yes, you read that right.)  Since DHHS is stating as fact that there’s a childhood obesity epidemic, doesn’t that mean they already have the data they need?  If they truly need more aggregated data, that is readily available through the medical community.  We don’t need to line kids up at school and have some “competent volunteer” enter their private medical information into a school database.

In response to a quote in the Omaha World-Herald by Kate Heelan, professor and director of the physical activity and wellness lab at UNK, that "BMI belongs in school health screenings" because it can identify diseases such as diabetes:  Maybe it can, maybe it can't. Personally, I think BMI is a bogus measure of health and my own son is living proof of that. But let's say for the sake of argument that BMI is indeed helpful in identifying diabetes. How does that translate into BMI screenings belonging in schools? Pap smears help identify cervical cancer. Rectal exams help identify colon cancer. Does that mean those screenings belong in schools? These are medical issues, not educational issues, and their rightful place is between the family and their medical provider—just like weight and BMI.

The fallacy of BMI as a health indicator, and the questions about the data collection aside, the most crucial issue for Nebraska parents is that carte blanche has been given to DHHS to screen our kids for anything they want, for whatever reason they want, and they can use the public schools to do it.  DHHS can mandate these screenings regardless of the parent’s wishes and with no opportunity for a parent to opt out.  In this case, I believe DHHS is using the schools as a vehicle to collect personal medical data on our children.

The NFF strongly opposes DHHS having unregulated authority to order our schools to do medical inspections of our children without parental consent. We fear the collection of BMI data is another step on a slippery slope and could easily lead to all sorts of medical mandates in our schools. Our schools should be focused on educating our children and leave the practice of medicine to doctors. While some parents may appreciate the schools assisting them with health care (and nothing in this bill prevents that), assistance should be optional and up to the parent's discretion.


1.  Testify in support of the bill on Tuesday, March 10 at 1:30 PM in Lincoln.

2.  Contact each member of the Education Committee and tell them you support LB 0029 because it:

Returns authority for decisions regarding medical screenings/care back to parents.
Removes the  unlimited authority given to DHHS to screen school children for any condition the agency chooses, even without parental permission.

3.  Also contact your own state senator and ask him or her to support moving LB 0029 out of the Education Committee to the floor for a vote.

4.  Copy Sen. Beau McCoy on each e-mail sent:

Members of the Education Committee:

Sen. Kate Sullivan, Chair

Sen. Rick Kolowski, Vice Chair

Roy Baker

Sen. Tanya Cook

Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Adam Morfeld

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks

Sen. David Schnoor

Monday, August 25, 2014

Parents: Be Proactive

Nebraska public schools are in full swing for the 2014-15 school year. This is a reminder that we all need to take responsibility for making sure our kids get to school whenever they are able, and we need to get them there on time. When they are not able to attend or they have to be late, it's important for you to keep a WRITTEN LOG of their absences, down to the minute, along with the reason for their absence. Be sure to compare your written log to the school's on-line attendance site at least once a week.

If your child is ill enough to stay home, but not ill enough to go to the doctor (low-grade fever, 24-hour stomach flu, etc.), take a picture! Take a picture of the thermometer with their temp on it. Take a picture or videotape the vomit (I'm not kidding). If you're caught in traffic behind a wreck, take a picture. If your car breaks down, save the repair receipt. Document document document. Unfortunately, this is what it has come to in districts like Lincoln Public Schools. If you are referred to law enforcement for legitimate, parent-approved absences, your attorney can use your documentation and photos to defend you.

And while you're documenting, why not write a letter to your school board and ask them to change unreasonable attendance policies? Those of us in Millard, Gretna, and Omaha Public Schools would be happy to show you what a reasonable attendance policy looks like. There ARE districts that respect parents while providing a top-notch education! (Millard has a 98% graduation rate and a family-friendly attendance policy.)

Be proactive and protect your kids!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

New Attendance Law Takes Effect With New School Year

NFF Parents:  The new state law regarding school absences took effect on July 18.  As children throughout Nebraska head back to school over the next couple of weeks, we will begin seeing how our own school districts and county attorneys handle the changes.  (Please click on this link for a reminder of the primary changes included in the new law.)

The new law has returned discretion over attendance back to the school districts, within the guidelines set forth in LB464, and many of those districts have revised their attendance policies over the summer.   Some of the new policies look great; others continue to be unreasonable.  Case in point is Lincoln Public Schools, which still categorizes parent-approved illnesses and medical appointments as “unexcused,” with no differentiation between parents calling their children in sick and kids who are really skipping school.

The Nebraska Family Forum as a group had a great impact on getting state law changed and returning discretion to the local level.  It’s now up to you, the parents of each district, to communicate with your school boards if you are unhappy with your local attendance policy.

Several members of the NFF, myself included, have experience dealing with school boards and administrators, organizing other parents, and effecting change.  We would be happy to guide you through that process.  However, a parent in Omaha, or a statewide group such as ours, cannot resolve a bad attendance policy in No. Platte or Lincoln or Hastings.  That is up to individual community members.

Don’t be intimidated by your local school board members.  You elected them, and they are there to do what’s best for your children and your families.  They are your friends and neighbors and fellow parishioners.  NFF members have found that school boards are, for the most part, approachable and open to hearing from the parents they represent.  Most of them are parents too, and are more than willing to listen to your concerns.

My advice to all of you is to read your district’s new attendance policy NOW.  If you think it’s reasonable, that’s great.  If you have issues with the way your district plans to implement the changes to state law, I suggest you take action right now.  Don’t let the new policies catch you by surprise.  Be proactive, instead of being forced into the position of reacting after the fact.  Protect your kids and protect your family, now rather than later.  These are OUR schools and they exist to educate OUR children.  It is our right and responsibility as parents to speak up and ask for change when school policy is hurting our children.

If you need help approaching your school board, please feel free to contact me at 

Brenda Vosik, Director

Nebraska Family Forum

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Common Core: A scam on the American public

This is a fascinating article about the deceit, cronyism and politics involved with the implementation of Common Core.

I suspect this Arizona story is just a small sampling of what's going on nationwide.

Common Core is an enormous scam on the American public. Pearson, with the help of its political allies, is making millions. Our children are Pearson's unpaid guinea pigs, worker bees, data gold mines, and victims. Americans' tax dollars are being used to victimize their own children in a money making scheme so enormous that it should have the suffix "-gate" after it. 

Nebraska parents, we must remain vigilant in our fight against Common Core in our state, and we must join with other parents nationwide who are fighting to get rid of this atrocity in the states that have already implemented CC. Common Core is doing enormous harm to children throughout this nation and it is our responsibility to stand up and save them.

I encourage you to join nationwide groups to get more information about Common Core: Parents and Educators Against Common Core, Left-Right Alliance for Education, Dump Duncan, Common Crud, Badass Parents Association, and Badass Teachers Association are a few of the groups with good information.

Charter Schools study

This study is very interesting, especially in light of the possibility that Nebraska may legalize charter schools in the near future.

Florida is often held up as the "gold standard" by proponents of charter schools, However, this study found that Florida's charter schools do not perform better than public schools; that charters are more segregated than public schools; that many charters funnel money to religious organizations; that a significant number of charters operate for profit; and that the charter industry has captured control of key seats in the legislature.
I would like to find out more about the pros and cons of charter schools. Some people think they are the answer to failing school districts. Others think they will be the death of the public schools, because they funnel tax dollars from public schools into private schools who selectively accept the cream-of-the-crop students, and are run on a for-profit basis by businessmen and celebrities (did you know the rapper Pit Bull has a charter school?)

In any case, future discussion of this topic in our legislature promises to be a lively one.