CCS School Board to Vote Thursday on Weighing Students, Taking Away Recess

Now’s the Time: Tell the School Board You Care About Weigh-ins & Recess!
Please consider coming out to the CCS School Board this Thursday, September 7, when the School Board will be voting on the issues of weighing students and of taking away recess as punishment, as part of an updated district Wellness Policy.

The School Board meeting begins at 5:00 at Charlottesville High School, 1400 Melbourne Road. Every member of the public is entitled to speak for three minutes. The public comment period will be towards the beginning of the agenda. You do not have to stay for the entire board meeting!

If you are not able to attend the meeting on Thursday, you can still email them. Click here for sample text that you could use in an email to the school board and for all of the school board members’ email addresses.

Two things I will be asking the School Board to do and would encourage you to consider asking for, as well:
1) Approve the updated Wellness Policy.
2) Given the persistent use of recess as punishment and the confusion about the legitimacy of the practice, send communication to ALL CCS stakeholders – parents, teachers, and administrators – announcing that recess is not to be taken away from students.

To read the updated Wellness Policy here, click this link, then select the third hyperlink on the page, under File Attachment (see screenshot below): http://esbpublic.ccs.k12.va.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=6241&mtgId=605
Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 1.50.32 PM

If you have any questions at all about speaking to or emailing the school board, please email me at christa.v.bennett@gmail.com

For more information on the updated policy, keep reading….

The Updated Wellness Policy
The Wellness Policy has been updated by the School Health Advisory Board. It contains numerous changes to the existing policy. The two issues that my petition has been focused regard student weigh-ins and taking away recess as punishment.

The changes to the policy of weighing students include the following:

  • Students will be weighed in third through tenth grades (whereas they used to be weighed beginning in kindergarten).
  • Parents have the option to opt out their child from being weighed AND students have the option to opt out themselves.
    • PE teachers’ training in conducting the weigh-ins will include how to talk to students about opting out and their right to do so.
  • PE teachers will be trained in how to conduct the weigh-ins, using modules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • An additional teacher will be assigned to the PE class while the PE teacher is weighing students.
  • Students’ weights will not be recorded with their name or other identifying information.
    • The purpose of the weigh-ins are for “surveillance” instead of “screening.” In this case, surveillance means collecting data, without identifying information attached. The data will be used in application for grants that will benefit Charlottesville students.
  • Students will not be told their weight, even if they ask what it is. (This is not yet in the Wellness Policy, but Patrick Johnson, CCS Coordinator of Health and Physical Education, indicated that he intends to include it in the final draft of the Wellness Policy.)

The change to the policy of taking away recess as punishment includes the following:

  • It can’t happen!

In a very clear statement, the Wellness policy says that taking away recess, PE, or other physical activity as punishment is not permitted. Additionally, the use of physical activity as punishment is not permitted.

My Take
I am very pleased with the changes to the Wellness Policy.

Regarding the practice of weighing students, my original preference was that it wouldn’t happen at all. However, I am intrigued by one of the changes that is really innovative and could be a powerful experience for a student: that they can opt themselves out. There is a shift towards teaching kids in school about consent, that they get to decide what happens to their bodies. Being able to say no to being weighed could be an empowering experience for students. I will be watching how this plays out.

Regarding recess, I am very happy to have such a clear statement against taking it away as punishment.

I was surprised that at the school board meeting last month, no one pushed back on the second prohibition, i.e., the use of physical activity as punishment not being allowed. I am sensitive to the limited resources teachers often face, and I am concerned that they have adequate alternatives to respond to disruptive behavior in their classrooms. Some teachers do have kids walk laps at the beginning of recess, as a consequence for poor choices. While this is not ideal if it is happening every day – the numerous studies indicating the importance of recess in child development highlight its utility in social development as well as physical and academic – I wouldn’t necessarily balk at a teacher using it occasionally.

Weigh-ins and Recess Excerpts from the updated Wellness Policy

(p4)

  • Reducing or eliminating time for recess, physical education or physical activity as a punishment is not permitted.
  • The use of physical activity as a punishment is not permitted.

(p5)

  • BMI (height and weight)assessments surveillance will be conducted collected for students in K3-10 yearly, however, parents and students will have the option of opting out. An opt-out form will be provided to all parents prior to the start of the BMI assessment. BMI assessment will be taken without using student’s names and will be done in a private area. PE teachers will be trained and provided with an additional adult to assist with the PE class while assessments are being taken. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/BMI/BMI_measurement_schools.htm

*****

Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read my June 1 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

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Sample Email Text to Write the CCS School Board

If you are unable to attend the September 7 CCS school board meeting but would still like to let the board know how important it is that they pass the updated Wellness Policy, you may email them. Below, I have pasted sample text that you could use to write board members an email. I have also posted the email addresses for all board members.

If you have any questions, you may email me at christa.v.bennett@gmail.com.

Sample Email Text to the School Board
Dear School Board Member,
Please vote to pass the updated Wellness Policy at the school board meeting on September 7.

Parents and children in our school district should be informed that students will be weighed during PE class and that they have a right to opt out.

Taking away recess should not be used as punishment. Numerous organizations, including the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have released studies emphasizing the crucial importance of physical activity in our students’ academic, physical, and social development.

Please communicate the updated Wellness Policy in a way that will ensure all parents, teachers, and administrators are aware of these changes.

Thank you for your support of our students.

Best,
[Your Name]
[Your Charlottesville address]

School Board Email Addresses
School Board           SchoolBoard@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Adam Hastings hastina1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Sherry Kraft        krafts1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Amy Laufer   laufea1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Jennifer McKeever mckeevj1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Ned Michie   michien1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Leah Puryear           puryeal1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Juandiego Wade wadej1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins Rosa.Atkins@charlottesvilleschools.org

I’m Not Angry. I’m Awake.

I’m not angry. I’m awake.

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about the manipulations that are used to keep people – especially historically disenfranchised people, such as women and minorities – out of places of power. This happens in systemic ways, and it happens in every day personal interactions.

A few years ago and again this week, I had an experience where I was, open-heartedly and with great vulnerability, sharing my thoughts and feelings with other women. What I was telling them weren’t my edicts on the world. They weren’t even feelings I would share publicly, as they were thoughts-in-process. I was searching, to sort through them and pick out conclusions that were good and useful.

The women cut my process short by leveling an accusation at me: I was angry.

This stung me, the pastor’s daughter. This stung me, the authority pleaser. This stung me, the woman who didn’t locate my nexus of control inside myself until my mid-20s.

An extra layer of hurt was added because both were women who would have described themselves as feminists, and because they were older women whom I looked up to.

Anger is a word lobbed at those-with-less-power to discount our experiences: “You’re just angry.” I don’t think the women I was talking with meant to invoke this historical context of the anger accusation. I think what we were discussing triggered their own feelings. It was still an arrow that hit an old, scarred-yet-tender mark in my heart.

I’ve been sitting with this today. I lit a candle. I said a prayer that I would find the truth I needed from this situation. The words just came to me: I’m not angry. I’m awake.

I am a gentle, kind, thirsting-for-righteousness woman who has taken back (from history and society and specific experiences) my power. I am human and imperfect, so sometimes I say the wrong thing or act the wrong way. I am always willing to apologize. In fact, I find peace and healing in saying, “I’m sorry.” I see injustice and powerlessness and pain, and I recognize it and I often use words to express my witness of it.

I’m not angry. I’m awake.

Amen.

The Alt-Right, Systemic Inequality in Charlottesville, and What to Do on Saturday

This Saturday, the alt-right is holding a rally in Charlottesville, on the heels of a KKK event in our city earlier this summer. The KKK members were not from Cville. They were from North Carolina. They came to protest our city’s decision to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and to rename two parks previoulsy named in honor of the men. The alt-right event this weekend is a further protest in the same vein.

There are expected to be many more people showing up at counterprotests, in support of equality and justice and love. Businesses on our downtown mall – a hub of Cville community life within walking distance from the planned alt-right rally – are hanging signs in their windows that read:
“If equality and diversity aren’t for you, then neither are we
We are OPEN in protest of recent demonstrations of hate
Minority rights are human rights”

Others are declaring their business a safe space. One restaurant’s sign reads:
“We are a safe space.
If you are victimized, please come inside!
We will call the authorities for you!”

The message ends with a hand-drawn heart.

The alt-right presence in our city is disgusting. The response of defiance from many in our community, of anger over injustice, is heartening.

And.

And many have argued (importantly, people of color have argued) that the alt-right and KKK rallies are not the scariest expression of racism in Charlottesville. It’s the “quiet” racism, the kind that doesn’t wear a white hat but makes decisions. It’s the racism in courts and places where policies are made.

UVA alum Martese Johnson and Aryn Frazier laid out this case in a succinct, thoughtful essay: “Why the upcoming alt-right rally in Charlottesville may be less important than we think.”

They wrote:
“But the media should also cover [in addition to alt-right and KKK protests] the outcomes of the myriad town halls called to garner solutions to issues of racial injustice that either followed or preceded this most recent display of bigotry. Inform viewers of whether their elected and appointed officials are simply paying lip service to these causes and using time and money to seem as though they are addressing the problems everyday citizens and citizen-activists have brought to their attention, or if they are actually moving policy and practices to be more in line with equality and justice.”

The racism in policy and practice must be what we fight against every day. White people like me can support people of color who are working for change in Charlottesville, through organizations like our local NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Legal Aid Justice Center, and the Women’s Initiative – which offers, among other things, support groups and services to women of color – to name a few.

That’s not to say that we don’t show up on Saturday, too. I read on the Facebook page of one community leader, addressing the questions of white people on how we can support the fight for equality, that there has to be many different approaches to combating racism. Likewise, there are many different ways of showing up on Saturday.

The JMRL Central Library is going to be closed on Saturday due to safety concerns stemming from the rallies, but the other branches will be open. I’m going to take my girls tomorrow afternoon to check out books about black lives and black leaders. Together Cville has compiled a list of community events being held this weekend.

After this weekend, after Charlottesville drops out of national headlines for the racist rallies being held here, we will still be a town sitting in the long shadow of a plantation. Racism is our history, and it is our present. Making a different future will require us showing up every day.

Update: Wellness Policy to Be Presented to the Charlottesville School Board on August 3

This evening, a wellness policy that prohibits taking away recess as punishment will be presented to the Charlottesville City School Board. The board will vote on the policy at their next meeting on September 7.

The wellness policy is a revision of a previous policy and was drafted by the School Health Advisory Board under the guidance of Patrick Johnson, the CCS Coordinator of Health and Physical Education.

While I was not able to attend the SHAB meeting last month when the final draft of the policy was discussed, I spoke with Patrick by email and phone after the meeting. I am very pleased with the wellness policy that is going to be presented tonight. I think it best to wait until it is presented to the board to discuss the details, but I can say now that it states explicitly that recess will not be withheld as punishment. The policy also addresses the issue of weighing students. I believe it does so in a way that is clear and empowering for students and their families.

I look forward to writing more about the policy after tonight’s board meeting. As long as it seems appropriate at the time, which I think it will, I am going to live tweet the presentation of the policy to the board and the board’s response. You can follow along on Twitter: https://twitter.com/c_v_bennett.

What this campaign needs from its numerous supporters: can you mark September 7 on your calendars and show up to the school board meeting that evening? There is a time at the beginning of meetings for community members to speak for three minutes. It would be wonderful if the board could hear from other parents who want them to pass the wellness policy. If you can’t show up in person, please consider writing to the board members and our superintendent, Dr. Rosa Atkins. I am pasting below their email addresses.

CCS Board Webpage

Email our CCS board members:

School Board           SchoolBoard@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Adam Hastings hastina1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Sherry Kraft        krafts1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Amy Laufer   laufea1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Jennifer McKeever mckeevj1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Ned Michie   michien1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Leah Puryear           puryeal1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Juandiego Wade wadej1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins Rosa.Atkins@charlottesvilleschools.org

*****

Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read my June 1 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

 

Don’t Boo, Vote

Just voted in our VA state primary.

The last time I left this polling place, my heart was full of hope and love. And I spent the next day crying.

I still love you, America. I love our ideals, and I love that I have the freedom to call out the many ways that we fail to live up to our ideals. You – we – are far from perfect, but I can hold my little girl’s hand as I walk into a local school to vote. And for that I am grateful.

Update: June 1 Visit to the Charlottesville City School Board

On June 1, I made the below statement to the Charlottesville City School Board as a follow-up to my May 4 statement and the petition to stop weigh-ins and taking away recess at Charlottesville City Schools.

I requested that written communication be sent to ALL CCS parents, teachers, and administrators, stating that recess is not to be taken away from students in our schools, so that everyone is of the same understanding. The only school board member to address my request was Jennifer McKeever, who expressed support for the idea. CCS Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins also responded, saying that she had already communicated to administrators and teachers her commitment to not withholding recess. She did not agree to communicate to all stakeholders one message at the same time.

I will continue asking for communication to all parents, teachers, and administrators in a way that will ensure everyone is aware of the policy.

June 1 Statement to the Board
Hello, I’m Christa Bennett. I wanted to check back in with you all after I spoke last month about my concerns about the policies of weighing students during gym class and taking away recess as punishment.

In the past month, I’ve been impressed to learn more about people like Patrick Johnson and the other members of the School Health Advisory Board, who have already been thinking about these issues and working on promoting the health of our students. Like I said last month, I’m glad to be part of Charlottesville City Schools.

On May 9, Dr. Atkins gave a wonderfully definitive statement at the SHAB meeting, that recess will not and should not be taken away from students. I appreciate her leadership.

However, in the weeks since then, I have heard of several instances of recess being taken away from students, in three different city schools. As you can imagine, since I started the petition last month, numerous parents have reached out to me with their stories. They’re hesitant to tell them publicly because they don’t want their children singled out or treated differently, but their stories let me know that I am doing the right thing in pushing for clarity on this issue.

To that end, I ask Dr. Atkins and the school board to send written communication to every CCS parent, teacher, and administrator affirming that recess is not to be taken away from students. This commitment is only meaningful if every stakeholder is aware of it.

In addition to asking you for this written commitment to be distributed as soon as possible, I am applying to join SHAB, and I look forward to revisiting the issues of weigh-ins and recess as we finalize the wellness policy.

Over 100 local people have signed an online petition asking YOU, the school board, to end weigh-ins and taking away recess. A number of the signors are graduates and faculty at the Curry School of Education and in the UVA Health System. In my remaining time, I want to read you some of the comments left by those who signed, all of which are available publicly on the petition.

– I have been a classroom teacher, and I know how difficult classroom management can be. However, my own child was help in from recess in a CCS classroom for not completing written work in first grade. It turns out he had a learning disability, and staying in compounded his stress and anxiety tremendously. There are better alternatives than taking away important exercise, play, and social time.

– I am a Ph.D. student at the university of Virginia. At the collegiate level, I still deal with the effects of unhealthy self images and health practices my students learned in childhood. Please stop weighing children in front of their peers and taking away their recess. You are sacrificing long term health for short term problems.

– I am 56 and I still vividly remember being weighed in elementary school. I was a chubby one and was mortified; another girl was so skinny and she was mortified, too.

– As a child health professional, these are archaic practices that have little evidence or benefit to learning or child wellness.

And finally, one of my favorites:

– The number of studies showing that exercise improves learning is astounding. Let’s show our students that we “do our homework,” and remove the practice of taking away recess time.

Thank you again to the school board for considering these matters, and addressing them until they are fully resolved.

*****

Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.