Parents lined up to testify Tuesday in support of a bill that would stop school health screenings for obesity while educators argued such screenings are vital educational tools.
Sen. Beau McCoy introduced LB29, which also would give parents more control over other health screenings by allowing them to opt out on behalf of their children without a doctor’s signed statement.
Since 1919, the law has required screenings on eyesight, hearing and teeth. It was recently amended to allow screening for “other conditions as prescribed by the Department of Health and Human Services.”
That allowed the state agency to require testing for BMI, height and weight, which it began to do this year. Children can forgo the screenings if they’ve undergone screenings by a doctor in the previous six months, which LB29 would extend to the entire school year.
Brenda Vosik with the Nebraska Family Forum said the law usurps parents’ control.
“Believe me when I tell you this is no small matter to parents of this state,” she said. “Schools should be focused on educating students and leave medical concerns to health officials,” she said.
But Dr. Bob Rauner, executive director for Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln, who has gathering years of student obesity and fitness data, said it is important because of the strong connection between health and academic achievement: Healthier students do better academically.
“Education and health are highly connected,” he said. “School-based interventions are very important.”
In return, Carole Julian said the Department of Health and Human Services -- which mandated the testing -- has no obligation to explain how it uses the data or where it is stored.
“The Department of Health and Human Services has been given the authority to screen our children for anything they want,” she said. “This alarms me.”
Proponents of the bill say it would not prohibit schools from doing BMI testing altogether, but it would no longer be mandated.
Edward Truemper, a pediatric doctor in Omaha, said he supports LB29 because the law as written doesn’t require the notification or privacy protections that are standard protocol for research.
Beth Meyer, a Lincoln parent, said the BMI screenings cross a line into very personal -- sometimes embarrassing -- information that should be collected by a doctor, not at school.
John Skretta, superintendent of Norris Public Schools, said how screenings are done is a matter of training and best practices, not a reason to stop collecting important health data for schools and families.
No individual data is shared with the Department of Health and Human Services or anyone else outside the family, Skretta said.
Kate Heelan, a professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, who has been collecting such health data since 2006, said it has helped Kearney schools get numerous federal grants and led to significant health-focused policies at schools.
Ann Schroeder, a Norris teacher who has does various screenings including BMI as part of a federal grant, said the information helps educate students about their own health and the importance of a healthy diet and exercise.
No parents have complained and some have thanked her, she said.
“It can help educate students and save lives,” she said.