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