Wednesday, July 1, 2015

An OPS Parent Responds to Omaha World-Herald Editorial




The following article was written by OPS parent Gina Miller in response to the Omaha World-Herald's editorial published on June 28.  The editorial can be read by clicking this link:
http://www.omaha.com/opinion/world-herald-editorial-ops-taking-the-right-road/article_73595e0a-409b-5514-8781-518b8e6e992f.html
 

This is an interesting editorial.   I do believe OPS overall is taking the “right road” but I have some concerns with this editorial.

  1. The subtitle is “It is a credit to the Superintendent’s vision, leadership, and willingness to be an agent of change."   This subtitle would lead one to believe that the changes mentioned in this article lay squarely at the feet of Mr. Evans.   I would challenge that the changes listed in this editorial lay squarely at the feet of an extremely hard working, engaged, passionate school board and those changes have been implemented effectively by Mr. Evans, OPS staff, and classroom teachers.  

  1. Let’s look at the achievements mentioned.  The first four bullet points lay out specific rates which have been rising over the last 3 – 4 years.   That is great but Mr. Evans has only been in his position for the last 2 years.  How do test scores and academic performance increase?  Yes, leadership and a clear mission is important, but it is the magic that happens every day in the classroom by motivated, innovative, passionate teachers and engaged kids.   I find it disheartening that once again we have an article talking about all of the achievements of a district without mentioning the classroom teacher.  

  1. The editorial mentions the “Public’s resounding endorsement at the ballot box last fall” with the passing of the bond.  Let us remember that the first referendum the public did was a year before that, to shrink the board size and vote in a new board.   The public said loud and clear that we were done with a top down leadership approach of previous administrations and that we no longer wanted a rubber stamp board.  The public (parents, teachers, taxpayers, community interests) wants a voice at the table. 

  1. The editorial mentions possible divisiveness on the OPS board.  “OPS board members need to pursue a common constructive, collaborative approach”.   I challenge this author that the board and superintendent need to follow this advice with the public.   I also challenge this author that I do not want a rubber stamp vote on agenda items.  I want to hear debate and concerns from my board members and watch them work through issues.  I want my board member to represent his or her constituents. 

  1. I find it disheartening that once again we are talking about how “administration” is doing all of these great things and no mention of the hard work that classroom teachers, parents and the kids have been doing.  There would have been no bond if not for the teachers and parents hitting the streets and supporting this effort.  There would not be any increases in student achievement if it weren’t for the efforts of classroom teachers and the kids. 

  1. OPS IS on the move and heading in the right direction because of a lot of hard work from EVERYONE.   But the last two years have not been without controversy.
       a.  Some leadership that still doesn’t seem to understand that parents deserve and want a voice at the table, not just sometimes but for all critical issues. 
       b.  A very controversial vote taken about extending the school day without notification or  consideration of parental or teacher input.
       c.  Questions about teacher contract negotiations done in bad faith by the administration.
       d.  A student death at Nathan Hale that from all accounts put the family last in the communication process.
       e.  A parent harassed and threatened for participating in public comment to the board.
       f.  Sanctions after OPS doesn’t meet federal regulations regarding suspension rates and a lack of communication by the administration to the board.
       g.  Busing and student assignment issues that still have not been addressed.
       h.  Public concerns with SRO’s that have not been addressed, although another school year is about to begin.

There has been a lot of work done and there is a lot of work left to do. I have been impressed with the OPS board but there are some warning signs that we all need to be taking note of.  The more administration and the board move forward on critical issues without public input, the more chance there is that we move back to the error of top down management that we fought so hard to eliminate.  I challenge this board and this administration to continue to collaborate with parents, the community, and teachers.   We don’t move forward unless ALL of the stakeholders are at the table and have a voice.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

ATTENTION OPS PARENTS

The following post was written by Gina Miller, an OPS parent who is actively engaged with her children's schools and the Omaha Public School Board.  In spite of her ongoing communication with the board, Gina was one of thousands of parents and teachers who were completely blindsided by the board's vote last week to extend the school day, which takes already overstressed children away from their families, their rest, and their enriching activities for an even longer period of time.

ATTENTION OPS PARENTS!

It is time to have a discussion about national education movements that are sweeping the nation and having a direct effect on our children and families.

I am tired of our PUBLIC schools telling parents what is right for my child with NO input from the parent. I am tired of our individual school districts and states hopping on any National Ed Reform Bandwagon that comes along with little to NO research for its effectiveness. 

My long standing position has been that I am against an extended learning day and taking any more time away from my family and adding more to my already overstressed kids. I would have liked to have an opportunity to hear from OPS administration on why they feel this is necessary or a good idea. I may have changed my mind!

I have appreciated the other opportunities I have been given to give input and hear feedback and to make an informed decision. So now I will DEMAND to have my voice heard since they seem to have decided it was not necessary in the first place.

I feel the OPS board did a great disservice to its parents and its teachers by ramming an ill conceived plan to extend the learning day without ANY input from the community, the teachers or the parents! There have been many reports stating that an extended school day will not improve anything. AND LET ME BE CLEAR this is not an "Extended Learning day" (ie...add more recess, more breaks, etc....) this is adding MORE "INSTRUCTIONAL TIME," in some cases a whopping 2 minutes per class.

I will be using this forum to inform OPS parents of our rights and our obligations to be engaged. This was a single vote. It does not mean it is the final vote, and does not mean we have to lay down and take it.

I am asking you to join me to remind this administration that WE DO WANT A VOICE AND WE DEMAND OUR VOICES BE HEARD!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Harming Our Families: Five OPS Board Members Pass Extended School Day

Ignoring the pleas of tearful parents and the logic of experienced teachers, the following five Omaha Public School board members voted to extend the school day beginning this August:
Lou Ann Goding, Lacey Merica, Matt Scanlan, Katie Underwood and Yolanda Williams.

Three board members voted against extending the school day: Justin Wayne, Marian Fey, and Tony Vargas.

Teachers and some board members questioned exactly what learning gains would result from tacking on the equivalent of three to five minutes to each class period. One high school teacher stated: “...five more minutes per class period is not going to make a substantive difference. It might mean I get all the pencils back that I handed out at the beginning of class … but in terms of quality teaching, that five minutes is not really going to be used as extended teaching time.”

Several parents spoke against the proposal and explained how the extended school day would negatively impact their children and their family life.

Apparently the five school board members listed above aren't concerned that this change will have little to no effect on quality learning, but will have a significant negative effect on children and families. So why pass the proposal? Is it possible that Ms. Goding, Ms. Merica, Mr. Scanlan, Ms. Underwood, and Ms. Williams are being influenced by an agenda other than the well being of the children and families they were elected to serve?

Stay tuned, and don't forget to vote.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Extended school hours harm children and families

The Omaha Public School board is considering extending the school day by a significant amount of time--20 to 25 minutes per day--keeping the youngest students in school until after 4:00 PM.

It is the position of the Nebraska Family Forum that children do not need to spend even more time sitting at a desk. They need rest, they need play, and most importantly, they need family time. Keeping these kids away from their parents longer, in a forced "learning" environment, will not make them "smarter" and certainly won't make them happier, more productive or more successful young people.  It will also not solve the problem of poverty, which is the single most important factor in the educational achievement gap.  All it will do is make children more tired, more stressed, and more distant from their families.

If the OPS board approves these changes, children who ride a bus could have almost a 10 hour day, longer than an adult work day. And once that 10 hour day is over, there is still homework to be done. This expansion of the school day is not only unnecessary, it's harmful. What about fun activities such as soccer, baseball, or piano lessons? What about religious education? What about time with mom and dad? And what about sleep?

If OPS parents are concerned about this continued encroachment into family time, it is imperative to 1) E-mail each OPS board member and express your concerns and 2) ATTEND THE BOARD MEETING ON MONDAY, JUNE 15 AT  5:30 PM TO SPEAK AGAINST THESE CHANGES. If you don't take this opportunity to make your voice heard, these changes could be passed tomorrow and implemented this August.

If anyone would like assistance with organizing a response from OPS parents, writing a statement to the board, or preparing a short speech, members of the NFF are ready and willing to help. Please send an e-mail to NebraskaFamilyForum@gmail.com.

Brenda Vosik, Director
Nebraska Family Forum

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The cost of a "free" public education

The collection of BMI data in Nebraska's schools is being done without parental permission or knowledge, except in the rare case of districts like Millard Public Schools, whose administrators and board are doing the best they can with a bad regulation.

This regulation, which took effect in the 2014-15 school year, appears to be a data grab by DHHS and is the fault of that agency and the Nebraska Legislature.  It is not the fault of the schools, although most school districts could certainly be handling the situation better.

DHHS has been given carte blanche by our legislature to conduct any medical screenings they wish without parental permission.  The NFF is actively working to get that law changed before the next data grab is mandated. What will it be? Mental health screenings in the schools? Mandatory STD tests? Blood draws and DNA testing?  Under current Nebraska law, any of these tests can be mandated by DHHS at any time as a condition of attending public school.

It seems that the free public education to which our children are entitled isn't free at all. And the cost is much higher than dollars and cents -- the cost is our children's privacy and dignity; the cost is the relinquishment of our rights as parents to make medical decisions for our own children.  The cost is the insidious takeover of parenting by the government, using the public schools with its captive audience of young children as the vehicle for that takeover.

DHHS used its authority under Nebraska statute 79-248 (an authority which appears to have originally been given in order to contain infectious diseases) to write a regulation requiring collection of BMI data by every school district in the state. During testimony before the Education Committee last March, it became clear that the data is being exchanged for grant money. In other words, children's medical information is being sold, again without parental permission or knowledge.  Apparently, the majority of the eight-member Education Committee must think this is o.k., as the pleas of concerned parents were ignored and the committee took no action to correct the situation.

Millard Public Schools is the only district I'm aware of that is doing the right thing and giving parents plenty of advance notice on when their kids will be marched to the scales. They are also providing a form so parents can choose to keep their child's medical information where it belongs -- in the privacy of their physician's office.

For those of you whose school districts are not providing advance notice of the weight checks, and especially districts that are sending home "fat letters," I urge you to get organized and go before your school board to demand change. The "fat letters" are particularly concerning, as the result could be severe diminishment of a child's already fragile self-esteem leading to potentially life-threatening eating disorders.


The NFF is available to offer guidance on how to go about organizing and addressing your school board.  Please e-mail NebraskaFamilyForum@gmail.com if you would like assistance.

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.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT LB 29:

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:
bmccoy@leg.ne.gov







Members of the Education Committee:

Sen. Kate Sullivan, Chair
402-471-2631

Sen. Rick Kolowski, Vice Chair
402-471-2327

Roy Baker
rbaker@leg.ne.gov
402-471-2620

Sen. Tanya Cook
402-471-2727

Sen. Mike Groene
mgroene@leg.ne.gov
402-471-2729

Sen. Adam Morfeld
amorfeld@leg.ne.gov
402-471-2720

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks
ppansingbrooks@leg.ne.gov
402-471-2633

Sen. David Schnoor
dschnoor@leg.ne.gov
402-471-2625