Seattle Weekly Stories

The Weekly had a couple of stories on SPS issues.

The first one by Nina Shapiro was about the issue of reopening schools just after the district closed schools. It had a couple of interesting things that I hadn't known.

"No one knows for sure why this turnaround has occurred, but one factor is surely an influx of students from private schools due to the recession. The state's 528 private schools have seen a cumulative drop in enrollment of about five percent this year, to 80,000 students, according to Judy Jennings, executive director of the Washington Federation of Independent Schools."

Really? I had heard that they had many more applications at private schools than space. But 5% is a lot. I wonder what it was in Seattle.

"DeBell notes the district went to the city during its 2006 decision-making to ask for demographic guidance, but the city could offer none. Tom Hauger, manager of Seattle's Comprehensive Plan, says that the city does not keep information on how many families live where."

As I mentioned elsewhere, the City didn't have a demographer in 2006 (the position was reinstated in 2007 or 2008). But the City doesn't keep information on who lives where?

"DeBell acknowledges there were "hints" of space needs in the north end several years ago. But he maintains that only in the past two years have all north-end schools begun getting crowded, not just the schools viewed as especially desirable. And he says one of the closures was meant to be temporary: The district closed Old Hay in Queen Anne just this year, in order to move out the bilingual program that was there and get the building ready to accommodate more students."

This one, as a reader previously pointed out, is particularly shocking. We closed Old Hay to get SBOC out? I thought all the closures were to save money (but I guess that's only when you are pushing the plan).

"Whatever the reasons, the district's about-face is going to be costly. Numerous expenses come with closing schools, including hiring a project manager to oversee the process and "team-building" exercises for staff transferred to new schools, according to district spokesperson David Tucker. He could not provide figures for how much it cost to close the schools being reopened, but says that '07 closures overall racked up approximately $2 million in expenses.

Now the district projects that it will cost $48 million to reopen the five schools—money it hopes to raise from a levy that goes before voters in February. Some of that work, related to structural fixes, would have been done even if the schools had remained open, according to Tucker."

Ah yes, the dirty little secret of closing costs money. And $2M isn't chump change. As for Mr. Tucker's statement that some of the work being done on the reopening buildings would have been done anyway, I say ....really? The district does virtually no basic maintenance. The only thing they really care about in the closed buildings is the roof (so water doesn't get in and make things worse) and broken windows (makes the neighbors crazy).

Second story (and I hadn't heard about this) is that the district is going to have PE teachers, starting in 3rd grade, weigh and measure kids.

"The logic, as the school district offers it, is solid: They want to give kids a way to assess their own health and fitness. Part of that process includes determining their body mass index, which is calculated by measuring their height and weight. But the problems if you're a parent are just as easy to spot.

For one, kids are evil. Everyone knows this. And so despite the school's best efforts to keep the measurements private, you can rest assured that some particularly resourceful little bastard is going to find a way to make them public, thus giving them ammo for the kind of unparalleled psychological torture not seen since the more active days at Gitmo."

From the KING 5 news story:

"Dunn says that students have the opportunity to opt out and that letters should have been sent home from the schools explaining the new program. The letters include a request section that parents can fill out if they would like to have their son or daughter excused from BMI testing. But some parents say they never got a letter and their kids have already been weighed and measured. The district says some letters may still be going out."

Didn't we learn anything from this when they did this to us? I wasn't the fat kid but yes, I was the shortest kid...every single freakin' year. It was humiliating (plus I was always the last one picked for kickball with my stubby little legs). At least SPS claims it will be done privately; ours were out in the open. And doing it to middle schoolers? Can you imagine the kids with body issues who are already thin comparing notes on who is the "most" thin?

The article ends with some common sense.

"There's nothing wrong with teaching kids right and wrong in school, including when it comes to healthy living. What's good to eat. What isn't. How much you should exercise and about how much you should weigh."


Jet City mom said…
My comment re: height and weight- is the same thing when I saw WASL was going to be used much more than it was originally intended.

Have the administrators & staff weighed and measured- they should be setting the example of behavior.

If it isn't a big deal for children- should be no problem for adults- right?
Sue said…
I see this as a huge problem, as some schools do not even have qualified PE teachers teaching PE. What about confidentiality? Right to privacy?

This has the potential to be very harmful, especially to teenage girls. What are they thinking?
SolvayGirl said…
I agree. This could open up a huge can of worms made up of bullies, binge eaters, anorexics and bulimics. I remember getting weighed and measured in PE in high school back in the '70s. AT 105 I felt fat because there were girls weighing less. I'd kill to weigh that now!

Schools should just be teaching nutrition and healthy lifestyles. They can give the kids the formula (it's simple math) and let them work it out for themselves. It doesn't need to be recorded anywhere.

And, the BMI is not the end all. It takes no account of whether the weight is made up of muscle or fat. An athlete can have a high BMI.
anonymous said…
My son had one PE teacher that was so obese she had to teach PE from her chair in the gym. It would be much better to teach by example than by humiliation.
reader said…
Private schools enrollment drop? Not in Seattle. You could contact PNAIS to find out if it's true. Even if it were true, that would just mean the waiting list for private schools would be smaller.

Height/weight? Very funny emeraldkity, weigh the teachers. PE should be about getting adequate exercise. And schools should do everything they can to promote that
Jet City mom said…
well if enrollment is down in private K-12, they are apparently finding a way to fill space.
( scroll down for what I first thought must be annual rates)

It is ironic that they are interested in spending time weighing and measuring children, when they had/have schools with out of the classroom programs ( that increases community participation as well as physical activity), but since they are called " alternative", the district has been bent on restricting their enrollment to the point of shutting down programs.

Its much healthier to encourage recess, not use staying in for recess as punishment, encourage programs like Summit's swing and tap dance & activity snow fridays , instead of more seat time, just to be seat time, and actually assign kids to their neighborhood schools instead of a school where it is too far to walk.
The Jane Addams site as well as other large sites has plenty of room to grow healthy food, what student could resist having a carrot that he planted for a snack? We should be a nationwide model for the 100 mile diet- it is a great climate for produce.

Working in the garden could be considered science- the study of botany and geology are part of the environmental trend jobs are taking. Digging is also very physicial and heaven knows kids of all ages love to play in the mud.
Much more inspirational to get in shape than the fear of being weighed in front of your peers.
( and I totally agree solvaygirl, BMI does not indicate health- I weigh more when I work out everyday, but my clothes fit better-)
SolvayGirl said…
Good idea Emeraldkity...The only problem with school veggie gardens is the growing seasons. They would need to plant things that grow quickly and can be sown in early spring. That includes lots of greens: spinach, lettuce, kales; radishes, green onions, etc. Carrots, unfortunately, aren't ready to eat before the kids leave for the summer. There are a number of winter greens they could grow and broccoli in raised beds in a winter garden.
kimberly said…
I hate the weight and measure idea. First of all, it just introduces another way for kids to identify each other as "good" and "bad" - there's enough of that already. Most of all it bothers me because the kids aren't responsible for the food choices as much as parents and schools are. I choose what foods to include in my child's lunch, and Seattle Public Schools gets to choose when she eats a school lunch. Also, the state of PE these days is not what I remember from when I was a child. Granted my student is only in kindergarten, but I think she has PE at the most every other week.

If SPS wants to get into this business, they better be able to show that their food choices (that include chocolate milk) can hold up under a nutritionists eye, and that the PE they offer is enough to meet recommended guidelines.
Anonymous said…
Discussions about any individual's BMI and what it means for that person are best left to medical professionals and parents. My 1st grader has her height and weight checked and BMI calculated at her annual check-up with her doctor, thus providing the opportunity to discuss diet, exercise, etc at that time, with someone who has a long history with my child and her individual growth chart. You can't just take one BMI measurement and draw conclusions from it.

I worry immensely about what this weighing and measuring program could do to pre-teen and teenage girls who already have body image issues. My niece was a healthy weight at age 12 but wanted to look like the super-skinny girls in her class and complained about being fat to the point where she didn't want to go clothes shopping because her image of herself was so warped. I can't imagine how much worse she might have felt seeing her peers with super low BMIs versus her normal BMI. And even if done privately, you know the kids are going to compare their results with their peers or overhear others talking about it.

Are the schools really prepared to wade into this territory and provide the emotional and psychological support for children who are adversely affected by this program? They missed all the signs when my niece spiraled into depression in 7th grade. I don't trust they will handle this matter with the sensitivity and psychological support that may be required. The potential for harm here seems to vastly outweigh the potential for benefit.
gavroche said…
Everyone here is making very valid points -- especially concerning self-esteem and eating disorders with girls. So what should we do about it? Why don't we all opt out? And write to the school board explaining why.

We could also demand that school lunches and breakfasts be healthy, organic and locally produced.
Dorothy Neville said…
I am not saying it was right or wrong to have done, but just data. My son calculated his BMI in school twice. Once in 6th grade science at Eckstein and once in 9th grade Health at Roosevelt.
K said…
Girls aren't the only ones to fall victim to eating disorders. I've seen a few teenage boys that I suspect were close to the edge. It's one of the few mental health diagnoses that can lead to death.

My son also weighed and measured himself as part of 9th grade health. They kept a food diary and counted up the calories and macronutrients of the food that they ate. When I asked him what he learned he told me that he eats too many calories for his height and weight. Um, since he's a growing teenage boy without any health concerns I think he's eating exactly the right amount of calories for his height and weight! The emphasis on BMI and calorie counting was absurd and comes out of a diet mentality that I've worked hard to keep out of my childrens' lives.

Kids don't need to be publicly humiliated or made to feel that something is wrong with them through flawed BMI calculations (look up the history of the BMI, it's not anything to base a health evaluation on). I'm all for teaching kids about fresh, whole, unprocessed foods (and how to cook them) and finding fun ways to move their bodies without injury. The rest is BS created by a multi-billion dollar diet industry and fueled by the fear of an overstated "obesity epidemic."
zb said…
lak367 is drawing a very important point. I think it's OK for the school to discuss healthy eating and healthy living, but not with reference to an individual child. That's an issue to be discussed with medical professionals, not the school.

Not sure what I think about children using themselves as experimental subjects (i.e. keeping track of weight & food intake). On one level it's interesting, scientifically, and no one has access to a subject other than themselves. I guess I might think that was OK, as long as the information was really treated as data, and not as a tool for behavior modification.

And, in the continuing word verification saga, my verification word for this is "resses"
zb said…
I think the Perkins school has a vegetable garden. Don't know how they do it precisely, but perhaps with the greenhouse?
Jet City mom said…
I was just using carrots as an example and I was thinking of Summit which had an area that was starting to have a garden and we were also using the green house at Hale I think.

It would have been a great opportunity- cause the whole school could have been involved.
( and schools could also be used year round to house summer programs as they are in other cities- in Portland where my daughter works, the public K-12 school hosts their own summer program)

The Northwest school on Summit on Cap Hill, has as part of their curriculum maintainance and repair of their historic site, as well as help maintain the gardens ( that produce food for the meals)

And didn't Nova prepare their own meals until recently using students to help?

We have so many big time chefs here ( inc at least one whom I know has kids at Garfield), that I think it would be fabulous to get a program going like they have in Berkeley.

There are a lot of winter crops- chards-leeks- root veggies & evergreen herbs like rosemary. We could also introduce more native landscaping that produce berries for wildlife and people like huckelberries, salal and Oregon Grape- which also don't need as much maintainance as plants that are not meant for this area.
WenD said…
Are there still SPS schools that don't offer recess? Was Madrona the only one? If so, will they offer it now?

I asked my 6th grader about measuring BMI. She's at an elementary in Northshore. So far this year, they've only measured height in PE. The way she described it, last year, students were checking height and weight during various activities in PE class. She said one student volunteered for each activity station, and height and weight was one of them. After 4-5 months, their teacher dropped weight, but they continued to measure height.

She really likes her PE teachers. (She also had Sue, a great PE teacher at Thornton Creek.) From last year, she remembers a lot of good advice on nutrition, how much activity it takes to burn the calories from a Big Mac, etc. but her teacher was never negative about it, and didn't focus on BMI. I asked her if there was ever a mean kid scenario, where the volunteer kid checking weight ever made an issue of it. She said no.

NSD parents receive a report with grades that includes weight and height, but it mainly focuses on fitness levels. They do a series of activities called the Pacer. Honestly, I don't recall if it includes BMI. Northshore is big on running. Everyone does a mile.
Anonymous said…
The 5th graders at Thurgood Marshall were weighed early this week and I got a letter to opt out only after I asked because of the story on KING 5. Whoops.

Though my daughter's class didn't seem to have any problems with it, one of the other classes had several girls who picked on one heavier one-who's obviously been heavy all year but her weight did get out to the others, which made her a target, which was my fear from the second I heard of this.

My sister developed an eating disorder in high school in part because of "mean girls", even though she was never overweight.

I understand the thinking behind this program, but I do not agree with it. Little kids aren't going to care much-pre-teen and teen girls-it's got all the potential for some serious problems.

PE can teach all kinds of useful information about health and nutrition in relation to excercise. It doesn't need to include personal information like weight, not when there's so much potential for kids to turn it into a weapon.
gavroche said…
Here's the official explanation and opt-out letter from the district. Relevant contact info is at the end.


From Seattle Public Schools:
Dear Parent/Guardian:

This letter is to inform you of the opportunity your student will be participating in during his/her physical education class this coming school year.

Starting in grade 3 in Physical Education, your child will be doing the Basic Fitness measurements to evaluate his/her current levels in the five components of health related fitness, which include Cardiorespiratory Endurance, Muscular Strength, Muscular Endurance, Flexibility and Body Composition (height and weight, to calculate Body Mass Index-BMI). This fitness process is supporting the K-12 Physical Education ‘FIVE FOR LIFE’ articulated physical education curriculum district wide.

You child’s fitness levels are compared to minimum health related standards that have been developed for children of the same age and gender.

The basic measurements consist of three phases; baseline, goal setting and post measurement. Phase one is the baseline measurements. Its purpose is to gather information about the students beginning fitness levels. Each item is specifically designed to measure one of the five components of health related fitness. By finding the starting point, students develop an awareness of where they are on a fitness and health continuum. It is important that students do not view this as a competition, but rather a starting point to improve their own personal fitness levels. Height and weight are taken privately and the information is held confidentially by the Physical Education teacher.

In the Seattle Public Schools we will be conducting height and weight measurements to calculate Body Mass Index (BMI) for individual surveillance purposes only. Body Composition is the combination of fat-free mass and fat mass. Fat-free mass is the combined weight of bones, muscles, organs, blood and water. Fat mass is the total weight of fat stored in the body. Having a healthy body is the correct balance of fat-free mass and fat mass. Measuring a person’s height and weight will allow for monitoring the body’s natural changes during growth, which in turn helps with understanding body composition and helping each student create a life time fitness plan.

If you do not want your child to participate in the height and weight measurement process please return this signed form to your student’s Physical Education teacher.

If you should have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me.


Lori S. Dunn
K-12 Physical Education Program Manager Seattle Public Schools

I request that my son/daughter be excused from the height and weight (BMI) measurement process in Physical Education during the 2009-2010 school year.

Student (s)______School _____Grade__ Room # ____

Parent/Guardian Signature ______ Date ________
ArchStanton said…
I'm late to this one, but generally think that SPS shouldn't be in the business of evaluating BMI. Maybe if they started serving healthier lunches, made PE less of an afterthought, and had the staff participate in measuring and fitness efforts - maybe I could go there... no, not really.

It just seems like more data for them to collect and not really do anything with while the process itself is potentially harmful to kids.

I'll need to remember to get an opt out form when our time comes.
WenD said…
"PE can teach all kinds of useful information about health and nutrition in relation to excercise. It doesn't need to include personal information like weight, not when there's so much potential for kids to turn it into a weapon."

I agree, the potential is there. This is probably why my daughter's PE teacher dropped it. Not sure what the district-wide policy is, but he told the class he didn't wanted them to focus on weight, but rather their activity level. That's why I wondered if Madrona or any other schools didn't have PE (at the K-5 level).
Anonymous said…
Here's the link to the King5 story; many interesting comments:

I'm thinking of trying to start an opt-out campaign at our school. If one kid opts out, especially a child who is very heavy or very skinny, it may make her a target. But if many opt out that is less likely. You know, the kids don't even need to access the information to spread mean rumors. They only have to SAY they saw a kid's weight or BMI and the damage is done.

WV says the choice is cleir.
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