Privacy Issues: NY Schools



Parents question physical exams at Buffalo Schools
April 29, 2014
BUFFALO, NY – A group of parents who have children in the Buffalo Public School District are calling on the district to review school policies allowing what they call, “sexually invasive” physical exams.
The parents say they’re concerned that the district and Kaleida Health, which operates school clinics, may not be following state health regulations.
Edie Harris has a daughter at Bennett High, who plays sports. Harris says last month her daughter was called down to the office for a physical exam, which are called tanner exams — an assessment Harris approved, but says she was never invited to.
“Then she [the nurse] told her I want you to pull your pants down, so I can check your pubic hair, my daughter said excuse me,” Harris said.
A school administered screening was also performed on Annette Jordan’s son and daughter two years ago at MLK school. Jordan says her children were too young to have a screening and that she never consented to have the exam done.
“I feel awful as a parent, I feel like I let my kids down because I would always say I would keep you safe, but I wasn’t able to keep my children safe from this woman and that was a total violation of their privacy and me as a parent,” Jordan said.
Dr. Steven Lana is the medical director of the Buffalo Public Schools, who monitors health testing policy for the district.
“Regardless of the age of the child or the grade that they’re in, it is the standard of care to perform a complete physical exam on a yearly basis,” Lana said.
However, this standard, according to Lana is recommended and not mandatory.
Tanner exams show what puberty stage a child is in. According to the state education department, during a physical examination, it’s best that another adult be present, that students should keep undergarments on and that assessments of a student’s genitals should be made visually only when a student needs a high school waiver to play sports. 
But, Lana says this is the minimum requirement and that students are recommended to be tested every year thoroughly. 
“A complete physical is a complete physical exam, we ought not to omit or skip or put aside any part of the body,” Lana said.
The parents also want to know whether the information gathered from the physical exams are being used for research studies, by Kaleida Health, without parental knowledge. Buffalo school says this doesn’t happen.
The parents are raising concerns of whether other students in Buffalo schools are also being improperly examined as well.

Be kind to children. This kid is fat (according to the City of New York)
May 22, 2014
By Joe Tacopino, Gabrielle Fonrouge, Laura Italiano and Erin Calabrese
Gwendolyn Williams is a pencil-thin, bubbly 9-year-old who is a perfectly healthy third-grader.
But according to city bureaucrats, she’s practically obese.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God! Why did I get this?’” the Staten Island kid recalled Thursday after getting a Department of Education-issued “Fitnessgram” that described her Body Mass Index as “overweight.”
I’m 4-foot-1, and 66 pounds, and I’m like, what?!” Gwendolyn exclaimed of the school handout, which the city is sending home in the bookbags of 870,000 public school students, grades K through 12.
The kids, who were weighed and measured back in November, are told not to look.
But the Fitnessgrams are sealed with only a small, easily replaced round sticker — and peeking is rampant, parents complain, with devastating effects on kids’ self-esteem.
Gwendolyn’s mom, Laura Bruij Williams of Port Richmond, says she found out about her daughter’s Fitnessgram Wednesday night, as she was tucking the girl in for the night.
“She said, ‘Hey, Mom. The school told me I’m overweight.’ And then she started jiggling her thighs, and saying, ‘Is this what they mean?’”
“That was heartbreaking,” said the stay-at-home mom of two.
The next morning, Williams sought out Gwendolyn’s principal at PS 29.
“She was sympathetic, but said the kids weren’t supposed to open it. My response is, they’re kids. How can you believe they’re not going to open it?” Williams said.
“It’s a very positive thing for some kids who are overweight, but we shouldn’t be putting these assessments in the children’s hands,” the mom added.
“Fat-shaming,” experts called the practice on Thursday, criticizing both the fallibility of BMI calculations and the mental-health effects of kids being graded on their size.
“My friend who was next to me, she opened hers, too, and she was overweight too, and we were both saying, ‘Did the Fitnessgrams get mixed up?’” said Gwendolyn, who plays softball and loves to ride her scooter.
“I just don’t think that it’s fair to be called overweight when you’re not really overweight!”
BMI, while supported by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was designed decades ago by the insurance industry as a way of assessing the health of groups of people, not individuals, said Chevese Turner of the Binge Eating Disorder Association.
“Dieting, especially for kids, is the gateway drug for eating disorders, and so is the public shaming that can come with this,” she said of the Fitnessgrams.
“My organization and others believe that BMI report cards have no place coming from schools and can be more harmful than helpful.”
A DOE spokeswoman defended the Fitnessgrams Thursday as “just one indicator … which helps students develop personal goals for lifelong health.”
But for Gwendolyn, the Fitnessgrams are just dumb.
“I know that I’m not overweight, so why should I believe the New York Department of Education?” she said.

Schools ‘spy’ on fat kids
Monitors raise privacy fear
January 15, 2012
Big Brother is joining the battle of the bulge.
A group of Long Island students will soon be wearing controversial electronic monitors that allow school officials to track their physical activity around the clock.
The athletics chair for the Bay Shore schools ordered 10 Polar Active monitors, at $90 a pop, for use starting this spring. The wristwatchlike devices count heartbeats, detect motion and even track students’ sleeping habits in a bid to combat obesity.
The information is displayed on a color-coded screen and gets transmitted to a password-protected Web site that students and educators can access.
The devices are already in use in school districts in St. Louis and South Orange, NJ — and have raised privacy concerns among some parents and observers.
But Ted Nagengast, the Bay Shore athletics chair, said, “It’s a great reinforcement in fighting the obesity epidemic. It tells kids, in real time, ‘Am I active? Am I not active?’ We want to give kids the opportunity to become active.”
The monitors are distributed by Polar Electro, of Lake Success, LI, the US division of a Finland firm.
In the South Orange-Maplewood School District, where earlier versions of the devices have been used for two years, upper-grade students’ marks in phys ed are based in part on heart-rate monitors and activity sensors.
Teachers use hand-held computers to collect data from each student’s wrist monitor during class, then upload the information to the school computer system for storage and long-term tracking.
But privacy advocates and parents worry that schools are using electronic monitors in phys ed without families’ knowledge or consent.
“I didn’t even know it was going on, and I’m active in the school,” said Beth Huebner, of St. Louis.
Her son, a fourth-grader, wore a Polar Active monitor in class without her OK last fall at Ross Elementary School.
“We have gotte n no information about the Web-site security or where the data will go,” Huebner said.
“When you get into monitoring people’s biological vital signs, that’s a pretty intrusive measurement,” said Jay Stanley, of the American Civil Liberties U nion. “There are key privacy interests at play.”
At the very least, says Stanley, parents must have a say in how long the data will be stored and who will have access to it and schools must obtain parents’ consent.
“A program like this should only be voluntary. Nobody should be forced to reveal biological indicators,” he said.
“It’s all about secondary use,” said Virginia Rezmierski, an expert on information technology and privacy at the University of Michigan.
“Does the data pass along with the child from school to school? When will insurance companies want to get access to it? Will a school want to medicate a child that the monitor identifies as hyperactive? It’s potentially very dangerous ground.”
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