District could dump mandate to follow state
School nurses in Bexley will likely discontinue screenings for body mass index (BMI) after the state dumped a mandate late this summer.
The Bexley Board of Education is expected to formally repeal its own requirement for screenings at its regular monthly meeting this week, a move that will likely be met with little to no opposition.
The screenings were part of a 2010 Ohio law known as the Healthy Choices for Healthy Children Act, which included recording the BMI of school-age children. The program affected students in kindergarten, third, fifth and ninth grades.
Bexley's school board followed suit in passing its own policy about the screenings in compliance with the state law.
After a one-year waiver, the Bexley City School District implemented the requirement in 2011 but gave parents an out. While district health officials said they wanted all students to participate in the BMI screenings, they left it up to parents to decide whether to allow staff to screen a child. No action would be taken against a parent, a student, the district or school if a child did not take part.
Screenings began again this year as students returned to the classroom in mid-August. But board members are looking this week to reverse that requirement because of the change in state law.
Ohio's mid-biennium budget bill (Sub. S.B. 316,) passed this summer, changed the language in the 2010 law to allow BMI screenings to be optional rather than mandatory. The 2010 law had required that students in kindergarten, third, fifth and ninth grades be given BMI screenings, with the information reported to the Ohio Department of Health.
According to Laura Lipsett, curriculum director for Bexley schools, a significant amount of time was spent on the screenings that could have been better spent elsewhere. Bexley had modified its health curriculum and arranged schedules to accommodate the screenings, she said. Last year, Bexley nurses measured the BMI of elementary students during vision and hearing screenings in the fall and early winter. High school students were screened during study halls, with individual students reporting to the clinic at various times over several days.
The nurses calculated students' BMI and then recorded it in a spreadsheet required by the Department of Health; they also prepared letters to report the results to parent/guardians.
"Bexley's nurses believe they spend a large amount of time screening children with normal BMIs and that this time could be better spent in the classroom and on the nurses fulfilling other responsibilities associated with their job description,"Lipsett said in a memo asking the board to reconsider the screenings.
The district has full-time nurses in all buildings. At the Cassingham Complex, Joann Spain is primarily responsible for the middle school and the high school, while Katie Talbott is responsible for the elementary.
Lipsett said school nurses indicated that various parents who opted out of the screenings were aware that their children were possibly overweight and opted out to avoid embarrassment for their children's sake.
There were 28 confirmed opt-outs last year, according to information provided by Amy Thompson, the district's communications coordinator.
This year, with the district waiting on the board's decision regarding the policy, forms for opting out were sent only to households of kindergarten and ninth-grade students. Of those returned so far, there have been 21 opt-outs, according to information from Thompson.
The Ohio Department of Health released its first student BMI report this summer with little fanfare. Approximately 686 of the more than 1,800 education entities chose not to provide data for the first year of the program and opted out of the study.
Of the children who were screened, more than one-third of Ohio's schoolchildren were found to be overweight or obese.