NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Staten Island mother was furious Friday, after her 9-year old daughter was told she was overweight – not by a bully, but by her school.
As CBS 2’s Sonia Rincon reported Friday evening, Gwendolyn Williams, 9, brought home a “Fitnessgram” from P.S. 29 this week.
Her mother, Laura Bruji Williams, told 1010 WINS that Gwen was upset because the message said that, according to her body mass index, she was overweight.
Gwendolyn is 4-foot-1 and weighs just 66 pounds.
“At first I thought, is this some was misunderstanding? Is this just like, did they, like, switch my BMI with somebody else’s?” Gwendolyn said. “But then I noticed that it wasn’t a mistake and they were actually calling me overweight.”
Laura Williams couldn’t believe it either.
“She’s not overweight,” Laura Williams told 1010 WINS. “She’s healthy. She’s active. She plays softball. She plays outside with her friends. So, it was ludicrous to read that.
“What really concerned me is that then she started asking questions about, you know, she touched her thigh, and she said ‘Is this what they mean?’ And I said ‘Gwen, no, everybody’s thigh jiggles like that,'” Williams said. “It just really disturbed me on a deep level.”
The letters were supposed to be for parents. But both Gwendolyn and her mother said it was inevitable that the children would open them.
“They’re children. They’re going to peek,” Laura Williams said. “It says their name on it.”
In addition to a high BMI, the letter said the third grader was overweight by a pound.
“I calculated her BMI on another fitness website, and she came out right in the middle range of normal,” Laura Williams said.
But she said it was just being labeled overweight that could have been devastating for children.
“I worry about other girls who maybe aren’t as fit as Gwen, and maybe that affects them in a negative way,” Laura Williams said.
Gwendolyn said of her friends was humiliated by the letter.
“I know my friend said she came home in, almost, tears because she was called obese,” she said.
In fact, one mother told CBS 2 off camera that her daughter, who is a little chubby, dreads the Fitnessgrams. Other parents questioned why the schools do them at all.
“That’s up to the pediatrician,” said parent Cheryl Paluzzi. “If I feel my kid is healthy, I shouldn’t have something from the school telling me that my child is overweight.”
The Department of Education is defending the Fitnessgrams as a way to help students develop personal goals for lifelong health. The department said the program is both popular and effective.
“Contrary to today’s coverage, Fitnessgram notices are a longstanding tool that help families stay aware of weight and fitness as one part of an overall approach to ensuring their child’s health,” a representative of the Department of Education said. “For almost a decade, children have received the same commonsense tips, alongside the results of their physical fitness tests. This is a program that is both popular and effective.”
But Paluzzi said if the schools have to do them, they should not hand them to the children.
“Give them to the parents. Do them at parent teacher conference,” she said. “Don’t make the kids feel any worse.”
As for Gwendolyn, she feels just fine.
“I know I’m not overweight,” she said, “because I’m only 66 pounds.”