New AR School Laws Require
Body Fat On Report Cards
By Richard Dean Prudenti Staff Writer

A new law in Arkansas will have Siloam Springs School District adding body fat content information to student report cards next year.
This is one of many bills passed by the 2003 State Legislature, which Ken Ramey, superintendent, said are ridiculous.
Ramey, along with CFO Quintin Trammell and school board members Paulita Brooker, Louis Thomas and Lynn Thomas, joined hundreds of other Arkansas school leaders at the Little Rock Convention Center Wednesday to examine 12 critical education acts affecting school personnel and students.
While not among the crucial matters of discussion, the "obesity act," 1220, which requires all Arkansas school districts to include a child's body mass index on his or her report card, highlights concerns about the relevance of recent legislative law passages.
A conference handout said the act is meant to coordinate statewide efforts to combat childhood obesity and related illness.
"What they are saying is that our kids are not active enough," Ramey said. "This is disconcerting. Parents I've talked to don't appreciate (the act), understand it and are offended by it."
"Certainly we as a school should teach health and nutrition, but measuring body fat - we don't feel comfortable doing that. We will comply with the law, but taking the time to measure body fat and putting it on report card will not be that productive," Ramey said.
Brooker said this act essentially opens school districts to lawsuits.
"We are treading on an area of privacy and confidentiality that is not our business - the students' body fat is none of the schools' business," Brooker said.
The larger picture is what concerns Brooker the most.
"Schools are having to take on more and more parenting responsibilities of children at a younger and younger ages. You can't legislate parenting nor can you legislate obesity away," she said.
As part of the obesity act, access to food and beverage vending machines will be prohibited next year at all elementary schools in the state.
This only affects Southside Elementary School, which allows students to buy snack food at select times of the day.
Southside West Elementary School principal Dan Siemens said students are allowed to use the machines only if parents give them permission and money.
"Parents know the snack machines are here," Siemens said. I guess (the Legislature) doesn't think parents can decide for their children what they can and can not eat. We think the kids deserve a snack."
As with the other 100 education bills passed, the district has no choice but to comply.
"Our Legislature has lost all common sense. In light of education reform in this sate, those 101 bills are mind-boggling. They have nothing to do with the real issue of improving the state of education."
Brooker urges residents to let their Legislative representatives know their displeasure before it's too late.
"Once the bills are passed, it's law. You can't say, 'Oh, I'm not going to do that,'" she said.
"One of my greatest fears is that when these silly, silly things are being implemented that our constituents will think (the district) has gone off the deep end. The board, our administrators and our teachers are just as upset as they are, but we have no choice," Brooker said.
The Legislature was in special session this week considering another 200 or so education bills, and may continue in a fall special session.
Siloam Springs may already be in compliance with some of the new laws, and will therefore not see a financial impact from each new act. For example, Act 1768 requires districts to credit all in-state teaching experience. Trammell said Siloam Springs already considers the total previous teaching experience when determining a teacher's salary and benefits.
"We don't need to do anything different, so this (new act) won't cost us anything," Trammell said.
However, the district must form policies and procedures for compliance with other new laws - a task Trammell and Ramey said will take time and an undetermined amount money.
Ramey said, "(Legislature is) going so fast passing all these new laws, we need to look at them, understand them and figure out a plan for implementing them. It will be a challenge."
Adjusting the local school budget to pay for these procedures will also be a challenge, he said.
For example, Act 1398 requires teachers be paid separately for non-instructional duties beyond one hour a week. This includes supervising students before and after school, during breakfast and lunch times and recess.
Other unfunded mandates are acts 756 and 1752: The former allows each pre-kindergarten-sixth grade teacher to spend up to $500 a year on classroom supplies; the latter act provides employees working 20 or more hours a week with two paid 15-minute breaks a day.
"There is not a lot of discretionary funds in our budget, and every time the Legislature meets and passes laws that do not attach money to it, this affects our budget and reduces our flexibility (to do things like) improve curriculum or update equipment," Ramey said.
This is especially frustrating considering a recent $20.9 million cut in the state's public school fund budget, he said.
John Kunkel, associate director of finance for the Arkansas Department of Education, Monday informed all school superintendents and finance personnel in the state that the allotted $4,784 per student in the state for last year retroactively dropped to $4,675. Considering the local school system has 3,000 children, this amounts to $330,000 less funding for Siloam Springs.
Another frustration is the Public School Choice Act 1272, which allows any child to join any district provided they meet certain criteria set by an individual school system.
"This (demonstrates) a shift in thinking. In Arkansas, it used to be that local districts were responsible for educating children. Now it's the state's responsibility," Ramey said.
Ramey said that according to the November State Supreme Court ruling on the Lake View vs. Arkansas, it is now the state's responsibility to guarantee each child has substantially equal curriculum, facilities and equipment.
"So it has made it easier for one child to go to a school in a district they don't live in," Ramey said.
Based on his notes from the Little Rock convention, Ramey said, "The criteria for acceptance (of a non-resident) must be on the capacity of a program, class, grade level or school building."
Supposedly, the bill's intent is not to force districts to hire new teachers. However, Ramey said this is a possibility.
Districts must abide by state-determined student-teacher classroom ratios. They are also required by law to accept all resident patrons into the school system. The number of students determines how many teachers a school hires. If outside residents join the Siloam Springs School District when classrooms are filled to capacity, the school system is still obligated to hire another teacher.
The act does allow districts to cut-off enrollment based on pre-determined percentages. For example, a district could stop accepting outside students if classrooms are at, say, 90 percent capacity by Aug. 1 - the date by which districts must accept outside applicants. This would allow room for future move-ins and transfers to the district.
From Jim
Dear Jeff,
I would like to respond to New AR School Laws Require Body Fat On Report Cards By Richard Dean Prudenti, if I may:
Reporting the amount of body fat on Report Cards? Why not? They already analyze and meticulously record the contents of urine, breath, blood, hair, sweat, and saliva to make sure a child doesn't take drugs (except approved ones like Prozac), or tobacco (a known carcinogen), or ingest too much sugar (a known cause of diabetes, depending upon how much the sugar industry contributes to the next election).
But is this law just intended to provide "helpful information" that parents are shirking their responsibility by letting kids get fat, or is the true reason another toe in the door for Big Government to exercise more power, control, and get the money it needs to sustain itself by the issuance of hefty fines for lawbreakers?
Yes, it's a good idea that kids be in prime condition (and fit for draftability to fight our nation's wars to end war), as it's a good idea for people to wear seatbelts. But what started off as a cute little song years ago ("buckle up for safety buckle up...") has turned into a monstrosity of random roadblock checks where those who aren't wearing safety restraints are dragged off to a House of Correction likely to be molested, harassed, and sexually abused. And it's all perfectly legal according to the same US Supreme Court that elects presidents and rescinds Constitutional rights to protect us from foreign terrorists.
I don't understand this overwhelming fascination with making more laws to regulate every nook and every cranny of human existence unless the intent is more to feed the lawyers and Big Government's machine than simply good intentions in and of themselves.



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