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A report card on youths' weight irks Cape parents

BARNSTABLE -- Almost 140 Hyannis Elementary School students went home last week with letters implying that they might be at risk for becoming underweight or overweight after a height-and-weight screening.

The screening is the result of a federal law that requires schools to implement programs aimed at "wellness." The programs also include vision and hearing tests.

Some parents are angry, The Cape Cod Times reported yesterday. Vicki Elliott, whose 4-foot-tall, 66-pound daughter was sent home with a letter warning that she was "at risk of becoming overweight," said the letter singles out children about a sensitive issue.

And, Elliott said, it's none of the school's business. "She probably can eat healthier, but that's for the doctor and me to decide, not the school nurse," Elliott said.

The school nurse, Stacey Shakel, said the letter had been meant as an education tool, not an insult. The screening determines body mass index; a high number does not necessarily mean a student is overweight, she said, especially for athletes.

"It's simply a red flag, potentially, in relation to chronic diseases," Shakel said.

In addition, state law requires that a school notify parents of children who are overweight or underweight, or who may be at risk of becoming so. About half of the Hyannis school's students got letters.

Elliott's third-grade daughter does not think she's overweight, Elliott said, adding that reading the letter upset her. "I don't agree with the policy," she said, "but if you're going to do it, don't send [the letter] home with the kids."

The Barnstable school district conducts height and weight screening on students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Superintendent Patricia Grenier said that the district could not afford to mail all the letters, and that in the end there's a payoff.

"Healthy children learn better," she said.

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