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 if you would like assistance.

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