“It’s a basic gut thing: Are we going to let schools be parents or are we going to let parents be parents?”
- Rep. Rick Jasperse
State Rep. Rick Jasperse introduced legislation last week in the Georgia General Assembly to repeal the SHAPE Act which requires students in public schools to be weighed and their body fat calculated and reported to parents.
Schools are expected to begin weighing students this academic period. Jasperse, noted his house bill would not come to a vote this year and definitely not in time to stop anything during this academic year.
But Jasperse said, by introducing the legislation, he has gotten the attention of officials administering the program at the state Department of Education (DOE).
“We have made the DOE well aware of our unhappiness with it,” he said in a Progress interview Friday, March 2.
Jasperse said he had been unaware of the coming weigh-ins until the Progress reported the program would take effect this academic period.
After doing some research, Jasperse said the SHAPE Act was passed by the General Assembly the year before he took office. The bill passed in 2009 was vague and did not specifically call for mandatory weigh-ins. Those arrived along with other factors PE teacher use to determine the fitness of students.
Jasperse said that in 2008 the legislature voted down another bill that specifically called for weigh-ins. Other legislators Jasperse talked to said they had voted for the SHAPE Act but were unaware of the weigh-ins.
“Members of the legislature have been surprised by the Department of Education’s interpretation of the bill,” he said.
Jasperse said since the Progress article (February 9) he has been “besieged” by people angry about the prospect of students being forced to step onto a scale.
The former county agent who represents Pickens and surrounding areas said he was opposed to the bill for many reasons including, “It’s a basic gut thing: Are we going to let schools be parents, or are we going to let parents be parents?”
Jasperse said comments from his daughter were the deciding factor in his taking on this fight. His daughter, Mary Alice, a student at UGA, told him that from the point of view of a younger female, forced weigh-ins at high school could lead to horrible consequences with eating disorders for kids that aren’t overweight and would create amazing amounts of stress.
“She really put it in perspective,” he said. “You have all the eating disorders, and you have girls who are already bullied.”
Jasperse said he held two meetings with officials from the DOE. In the first, he said, they were dismissive of his concerns, telling him he was over-reacting.
The second was more productive, and Jasperse said those advocating the program are sincere in their belief that they were instructed to do this by the legislature, even if it wasn’t spelled out as to how.
“They were defensive,” he said. “They feel this is a valid thing to tell people – the physical state of their kids.”
While acknowledging the problem with childhood obesity, where Georgia is the second worst state in the nation, Jasperse said weigh-ins aren’t the right course.
“We know that kids aren’t in as good of physical shape as they were 25 years ago,” he said. “The time spent testing would be better spent doing PE. Parents don’t need reports telling them ‘little Ricky is fat, and his fitness is poor for a person of his age.’”
Jasperse said, even as they are implementing this test, basic PE classes have been cut across the state. Jasperse said he is also perturbed that he can’t find a clear cost for the weigh-ins. Scales and computer software were sent to every school in the state. He said it appears to have cost $3.5 million, but he can’t find a definitive answer on the total cost.
In theory, Jasperse said the weigh-ins are an invasion of family privacy and go too far in the state taking away personal choices – even if the personal choices made are poor ones.
“This is delving into questions like, ‘Are people watching too much television or playing too many games?’ and all these other things,” he said. “We may not like it, but it’s the people’s choice.”