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Tearful mom makes plea for school district to change its policy

The Cottageville mother who tearfully told the Colleton County School Board last Tuesday night about being told her child is overweight is now speaking out … and so is the school district.

Robin Ackerman recently stood in front of the school board at a packed house and told them she resented receiving a letter from Cottageville Elementary School that said her nine-year-old daughter was overweight. Ackerman drew emotion from the crowd, and a flurry of comments on this newspaper’s Facebook page. But, after going home and reviewing the letter, a calmer Ackerman has a very clear message she wants to send to the school district: “That letter should have never been sent to my home through my child,” she said. “It should have been mailed to me, in my name.”

Ackerman said her daughter’s behavior has changed since reading the letter. While Ackerman admits her daughter should have never opened an envelope that wasn’t addressed to her, she said the letter’s content was too harsh for her child to read. “It’s sad to me that my daughter doesn’t want to drink anything but water now because she thinks she is fat. It’s engraved in her mind now,” she said. According to Ackerman, her young daughter now frequently changes clothes and has become more aware of her appearance. Ackerman believes it’s the result of reading the letter that had a check mark next to “overweight.” “Everything doesn’t depend on your BMI,” she said.

Ackerman says she has spoken to school Principal Tracy McDonald, who was very “kind and apologetic” about the situation. “I have no harsh feelings toward the school or the principal,” said Ackerman. “This did not come from them. It was not sent to me from a teacher or school official, but came from the district.”

The letter originated from the school district, as a part of annual health screenings the district conducts on its 5th and 8th grade students, and on students in one grade in the 9th-12th grade classes. The screenings test for vision and hearing quality, dental well-being, and weight. Colleton has not yet received its data from this school year, according to district Nurse Beverly Calloway. “This is to make children healthy,” she said of the screenings.

“Each parent is notified at the beginning of the year about the health screenings,” said Calloway. “This has never been an issue before,” she said. “We don’t discuss the results with the children. Parental consent is not required before the screening, but we ask each parent at the beginning of the year to notify us if they do not want these screenings done on their children.” The parents then receive letters saying whether or not their child’s health is below, at, or over state standards. There is also a line for obesity on this letter, according to Calloway. “The parent is then told to notify their physician if there is a problem,” she said.

Besides the way the letter is sent to the parents, Ackerman also believes this issue is shedding light on another problem: the government has “too much control,” she said. Ackerman wants to see that the state’s school districts have more parental consent before prying into students’ “personal lives,” she said.

School board members seemed unnerved at Ackerman’s letter. Other board members asked for a copy of the letter, and vowed to follow up to see if the district’s policy on delivering these letters can be changed. “I had to wait as long as I did to come to the school board, because I was so upset and I just kept hoping things would get better,” said Ackerman. “I’m not the kind of person who likes to stir the pot, but something had to be said.”

Heather Walters (1410 Posts)