Health and Fitness Column

Anger towards school misplaced

By John Taylor | Jun 03, 2014
Photo by: File John Taylor

A school in New York recently made national headlines because a mother accused the faculty of calling her daughter fat.
Gwendolyn Williams, a third grader at Public School No. 29 in Staten Island, New York, recently participated in school mandated Fitnessgram testing, which measures each student’s current wellness levels throughout six different tests. One of these fitness assessments includes a body composition measurement, in which school officials can either perform a body fat percentage reading or a body mass index, or BMI, screening.
In Williams’ case, test administrators choose to use a BMI screening, and the results indicated that she was overweight by one pound.
The BMI measures the height and body weight of each student, and is based on medical research for healthy weight ranges. The Fitnessgram informs families if their child is underweight, at a normal weight, overweight, or obese based on their gender and what weight range is considered healthy based on their height.
The Fitnessgram also measures cardiovascular fitness, upper body muscular strength, abdominal strength, and flexibility.
Once a student completes all components of Fitnessgram testing, a test administrator can input all of their scores into the computer software, and a report indicating the scores can be generated. The report states the actual student scores, and if they fell into a healthy or unhealthy range.
The faculty at Public School No. 29 sealed all of the test reports, and gave them to the students to take home to their parents. They were given explicit directions to not open the report sheet without their parent present.
And of course, what did Williams do? She opened her report form, saw that she had an overweight BMI, and got upset. She then went home to her mother, Laura Bruij Williams, and stated that the school called her fat.
“She said, ‘Hey, Mom. The school told me I’m overweight,’ Laura Bruij Williams told the ‘New York Post.’ “And then she started jiggling her thighs, and saying, ‘Is this what they mean?’ That was heartbreaking.”
Williams stated she went to the principal at Public School No. 29 the next day, and was sympathetic, but wasn’t looking to change protocols.
“She said the kids weren’t supposed to open it. My response is they’re kids. How can you believe they’re not going to open it?” Williams said. “It’s a very positive thing for some kids who are overweight, but we shouldn’t be putting these assessments in the children’s hands.”
I have a ton of issues with this mom and her daughter. For one, isn’t mom excusing her daughter’s poor behavior? Gwendolyn admits that the school told her not to open her Fitnessgram report, and after she did, mom basically says that is what kids do. Not in my house … If I opened a letter that was meant for my parents, I would have faced severe consequences. I never opened a letter from school that I wasn’t supposed to.
Secondly, what mom is failing to realize is that Public School No. 29, like many New York Schools, receives funding through a PEP grant from the federal government, the same major grant that Haywood County Schools received a few years ago. One of the conditions for their grant is to administer Fitnessgram testing to each student and send the results home.
Mom can be upset all she wants, but if I’m a school administrator and I have to choose between keeping my multimillion dollar grant or losing it because a mom doesn’t like how the reports are distributed, I’m choosing my grant every time.
Lastly, mom said the school should have mailed the reports home instead of handing them to the students. This is a naïve thought. I currently teach 460 students in P.E., and performed Fitnessgram testing on all of them. If I went to my school’s business manager and asked for $230 for postage to mail every report home, I would get laughed out of the office. School budgets are tight enough and a postage expense like that will never be approved.
Instead of being ticked at the school, maybe mom should be less tolerant of her daughter for not following directions. You can blame it on “kids being kids” or you can turn it into a life lesson.
Do you think mom ever said, “Do you understand why you need to listen to the teacher?” I wonder if she blames the school when her daughter doesn’t bring a spare pencil to class, breaks the only one she had during a placement test, and now can’t finish the assessment. I guess that teacher should have had extra ones ready to go for such an occasion, right?

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