Not OK: When schools force students to be weighed publicly in gym class

Nobody likes being sent to the principal’s office (I’ve been out of high school for several years and I’m STILL afraid of being sent to the principal), but there are unfortunate-but-understandable reasons for being sent to the principal’ (you’re a half-hour late to first period…every single day) and there are completely ridiculous reasons for being sent to the principal’s office (your P.E. teacher wants to tell the rest of your Phys Ed class how much you weigh, and you’re like “No, that’s not anyone else’s business.”)

It is completely not cool to punish a girl for wanting to keep her physical stats to herself. Yet that is exactly what happened to 13-year-old Ireland Hobach Hoch, a student at Southeast Polk Junior High School who refused to be publicly weighed in front of her P.E. class. So off she was sent to the principal’s office.

“I really wasn’t comfortable with anybody but my mom and doctor knowing my weight,” Hoch told the Des Moines Register. “For another person to know — that’s not important to them.”

Southeast Polk Junior High School principal Mike Dailey argued that Ireland was not sent to his office because she refused to be weighed but rather because of the “disturbance” it caused.  Dailey also argued that the other students were situated too far away to see whatever number popped up on the scale, and that the only person privy to the information was the physical education instructor.

But for so many people—no matter what age—this is personal information and it’s sensitive information. As we all know, junior high schoolers aren’t exactly known for being the kindest denizens of planet Earth, and a girl’s weight isn’t just a number, it’s  often used as a weapon against women’s self-worth. It is reckless and irresponsible for school authorities to enforce a policy where students are weighed in front of one another. It’s also difficult to imagine that these numbers ALWAYS stay secret. This is a situation that is just going to give kids leverage to be mean to one another. And even if students are sensitive to each other, the fear that they won’t be and the general experience of having your private information on display is pretty traumatizing.

Fortunately, Ireland’s stand against this nonsense (and her mother’s complaints to the school board) made a difference. The school board has suspended the practice of weighing physical education students to determine their body mass index as a health assessment.

Unfortunately, publicly weighing phys ed students is still a common practice in other schools. About 40% of schools use this measure and about 20 states require it. I understand a school’s responsibility for the health and well-being of its students. However, weight is such a sensitive subject for young women, it seems unthinking at best and uncaring at worst to force students into a situation in which they will be publicly weighed.

I admire educators and their commitment to the health of their students. And I understand that a BMI score can be used as a tool to assess health. It just feels like weighing students in this particular public school setting has so many more cons that it does pros. Kids have plenty to worry about in P.E. They have to run a mile! They have to dodge so many dodge balls! They have to wear school-issued gym uniforms, the ugliest clothes known to modern man! We don’t have to add public weigh-ins to the list of things that make kids dread phys ed.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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