Entries in Schools (10)


Schools 'First Line of Defense' Against Mental Illness

John Coletti/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- "Weird kid."  "Not well."  "Hated looking at your eyes."

Those are just a few descriptions of Adam Lanza, the young gunman who killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last Friday before turning a gun on himself.

While Lanza's mental health remains a topic of speculation, experts say more should be done to flag "weird" and withdrawn behavior that might signal mental illness -- a job that in our education system largely falls to overstretched teachers and school administrators.

"We're the first line of defense, but we're not mental health professionals," said Mel Riddile, a former principal and associate director of high school services with the Reston, Va.-based National Association for Secondary School Principals.

Half of all cases of mental illness begin by age 14, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.  But it can take decades for those affected to get the treatment they need.

"Most of these kids aren't acting out, they're acting in," Riddile said.  "And kids that act in often get overlooked."

Add to that schools grappling with growing class sizes and shrinking budgets, many are struggling to provide essential psychological and social services, according to Riddile.

"We've seen about four years of budget cuts across the country, and ironically the people who are most in need tend to get hurt the worst," he said.  "But if we see a behavior that might need attention, we have to bring attention.  We can't use lack of resources as an excuse."

While parents may know their kids best, schools are in a special position to compare behavior between students and spot worrying differences.  Doctors say parents often lack the "professional detachment" that may lead to a useful diagnosis.

"That's difficult for parents to do," said Dr. Sandro Galea, chair of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.  "I think it's a tough to wrap your head around your kids needing treatment for anything, but we may be even more reluctant to accept the notion of mental illness."

But while schools play an essential role in recognizing the need for mental health services, their reach is limited.

"Schools cannot prescribe treatments, nor should they," said Galea, adding that only parents have the power to make treatment decisions.  "This is where system-wide efforts to make sure mental health services are available come into play.  It's a question of what our priorities are as a society, and I think kids and their well being are a priority."

With the right treatment, Galea said children and teens with mental health problems can live normal lives.

"Mental illness is increasingly being seen as an illness that needs treatment and benefits from treatment," he said.  "But I think we need greater societal acceptance of the fact that mental illness is as much an illness as a physical illness."

Galea said that educators should not fear students with mental health disorders, as "the vast majority of violence is committed against them, not by them."

"Mental illness is a pathophysiological imbalance that requires treatment, not fear and stigma," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Schools Take Aim at Popular Flamin’ Hot Cheetos

iStockphoto/Thinkstock (file photo)(NEW YORK) -- School districts in California and New Mexico are trying to ban the popular snack food Flamin’ Hot Cheetos because they say it is a health hazard to students.

School officials say the concern is their nutritional value, or lack thereof.  Each bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos contains 26 grams of fat and a quarter of the amount of salt that’s recommended for the entire day.

One school district in Illinois, which used to sell about 150,000 bags each year, has already taken the snack off its menu.

“If children were to bring in snacks that are high in fat, high in calories, that’s their choice,” Rockford School District Interim Superintendent Robert Willis said.  “We’re not going to be providing those kinds of foods.”

On top of the artificial coloring and flavoring, some experts say the Cheetos are “hyperpalatable,” meaning they’re highly addictive.

“Our brain is really hardwired to find things like fat and salt really rewarding and now we have foods that have them in such high levels that it can trigger an addictive process,” said Ashley Gearhardt, a clinical psychologist at the University of Michigan.

Frito Lay, which makes and sells Cheetos, says it is “committed to responsible and ethical practices, which includes not marketing our products to children ages 12 and under.”

While Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are under fire in schools, kids can’t get enough of them.  So much so that there is a YouTube video featuring kids rapping about their love of the snack.

“Got my fingers stained red and I can’t get them off me.  You can catch me and my crew eating hot Cheetos and takis,” one boy raps in the video.

Takis are a chili pepper- and lime-flavored corn snack.

The video has already been viewed more than 3.3 million times and there are even Facebook fan pages dedicated to the snack.

One fan page has more than 49,000 “likes,” with many fans posting photos and videos with the snack.

“Don’t feel like leaving to get food,” one person writes.  “So I’m eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Many Schools Unprepared for Next Pandemic

Purestock/Thinkstock(ST. LOUIS) -- During the school day, you leave your children’s health in the hands of the school nurse -- but it’s hard to know if they are prepared for everything. Some forms of preparedness training, like fire drills and tornado drills, are mandated in schools. Yet, readiness for infectious outbreaks is surprisingly low. Fewer than half of U.S. schools are prepared for the next pandemic, according to new research.

Biosecurity researchers surveyed approximately 2,000 school nurses at elementary, middle and high schools about their preparations for pandemics, like swine flu or SARS, and published their results on Thursday in the American Journal of Infection Control.

The results showed that since the swine flu pandemic in 2009, less than half of schools had updated their crisis plans or had developed a plan to address biological events. Only a third of schools had instructed children on how to protect themselves from infection, only a third had stockpiled personal protective equipment, and only half of schools coordinated their relief plans with local and regional agencies.

Almost no schools ever ran school disaster exercises that included infectious disease scenarios. And nearly one in four schools had no staff members who were trained in the disaster plan.

Study author Terri Rebmann, associate director for curricular affairs at the Institute of Biosecurity at Saint Louis University, said she believes more emphasis should be placed on planning for the next pandemic.

“Disaster preparedness -- including planning for bioterrorism, pandemics, and outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases -- is essential for all academic institutions,” Rebmann wrote in the study. “It is vital that schools become more actively involved in disaster preparedness and coordinate these efforts with regional response agencies, to increase their ability to respond effectively to a future event.”

Rebmann points out that although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both released recommendations for disaster management for schools, there is limited data regarding their execution. In fact, until now, no study has examined whether these guidelines have been implemented in schools or included in school disaster plans, even though schools are important places for disaster preparedness.

“Schools are an important place for preparedness for pandemics,” said Dr. Kristi Koenig, director of public health preparedness at the University of California at Irvine. “Not only do we need to protect our children, but those same children can learn how to prepare for disasters and bring this knowledge home to their families. This can be for all types of disasters whether it is a pandemic, hurricane, earthquake or terrorist attack.”

Although many people think that schools should emphasize the basic tenets of disaster and pandemic preparedness, the reason for such common omissions may be that official recommendations are often impractical to implement. For example, the CDC recommends that schools consider participation in a community surveillance program. These school-based surveillance programs report numbers of students with flu-like symptoms, upset stomach, or absence rates to regional centers. Some experts in public health argue that these measures may be overkill.

“School-based syndromic surveillance, although highly popularized in recent years due to primarily bioterrorism related surveillance, has not been proven either very cost-effective, e.g., too many false alarms,” said C. Ed Hsu, associate professor of public health informatics at University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston. “The return on investment of these syndromic surveillance systems is largely unknown.”

Hsu argues that while the intent of the study is timely and relevant and the information is much needed, it may be difficult to draw specific policy recommendations from the study.

Nevertheless, author Rebmann does have a simple strategy suggestion for improving school disaster preparedness: get the school nurses involved.

“School nurses are the health professionals responsible for implementing policies and programs to prevent infection transmission in schools, and thus are those best able to inform school disaster planning committees on aspects of plan development that will affect infection transmission,” she writes. “In addition, the National Association of School Nurses recommends that school nurses be involved in school disaster preparedness activities.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'Pink Slime': America's Schools Say 'No'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Given the choice, most school districts in America are saying "no" to lean finely textured beef, more commonly known as "pink slime" after ABC News exposed its widespread use.

The United States Department of Agriculture said that only three states participating in the National School Lunch Program (Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota) have chosen to order ground beef that may contain LFTB.

The beef filler was at the center of a social media firestorm earlier this year prompting public outcry for better labeling practices and petitions to remove the product completely from schools. The USDA, which runs the school lunch program, reacted by allowing school districts to make their own choices about whether to order pre-formed beef patties that may contain LFTB or bulk beef without the controversial filler.

LFTB is a filler made of fatty bits of beef that are then heated and treated with ammonia to kill bacteria. The USDA maintains that the product is safe to eat and reduces the overall fat content of beef products.

School districts filed their orders for the 2012-2013 school year and only the three states where the principal maker of LFTB, Beef Products Inc., had factories chose the so-called pink slime product.

"Given some of the alarmist reporting and blogging that consumers have seen and read about lean finely textured beef, it's not surprising, though still distressing, to see school districts make the choices they have," said Janet Riley, senior vice president of public affairs at the American Meat Institute, in a statement to ABC News.

Products containing LFTB are also more affordable to school districts, estimated to cost 3 percent less than beef not containing the filler, which "translates into millions of dollars nationwide," said Riley.

"These decisions unnecessarily place further pressure on school budgets that are already struggling to fund teacher salaries and the like," he added.

As of May 18, states had requested more than 20 million pounds of the bulk beef not containing LFTB. Orders for beef that may contain the filler totaled about 1 million pounds. The USDA purchases about 60 percent of the ground beef used by U.S. school districts.

Fast food chains were the first to reject LFTB in its burgers. McDonald's, Burger King and Taco Bell all dropped it after initial media reports. Wendy's eventually took out ads in major newspapers saying it never used "pink slime." Later, grocery store chains, including Whole Foods, Publix and Costco would tell ABC News they have never sold products containing LFTB. Grocery giant Safeway told ABC News in March they will no longer be carrying beef products containing LFTB. Others followed, and BPI has shut all but one of its factories.

Under pressure from the public for better labeling practices, the USDA also announced in April that they will approve requests from ground beef producers to voluntarily label their products containing LFTB. Labels could read: "Contains Lean Finely Textured Beef" or "Contains Lean Beef Derived from Beef Trimmings."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


‘Pink Slime’ Will Be a Choice for Schools

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- ABC News has the learned that on Thursday the U.S. Department of Agriculture will announce that starting this fall, schools will be able to choose whether or not they buy hamburger that contains lean, finely textured beef known as “pink slime.”

The announcement comes one week after ABC News reported on the beef filler commonly known as “pink slime,” which is found in 70 percent of the ground beef sold at supermarkets.

“It kind of looks like Play-Doh,” said Kit Foshee, who, until 2001, was a corporate quality assurance manager at Beef Products Inc., the company that makes “pink slime.” “It’s pink and frozen, it’s not what the typical person would consider meat.”

Foshee said that he was fired by BPI after complaining about the process used to make the filler, and the company’s claims about it. Since then, he has spoken out against the product.

J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, defended the practice as a way to safely use what otherwise would be wasted.

“BLBT (Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings) is a sustainable product because it recovers lean meat that would otherwise be wasted,” he said in a statement.

However, the substance, critics said, is more like gelatin than meat, and before BPI found a way to use it by disinfecting the trimmings with ammonia, it was sold only to dog food or cooking oil suppliers.

But Boyle said, “The beef trimmings that are used to make BLBT are absolutely edible,” and Janet Riley, senior vice president of public affairs for AMI, said there was no reason to label beef that contains “pink slime.”

“What are you asking me to put on the label, its beef, it’s on the label, it’s a beef product, it’s says beef so we are declaring…it’s beef,” she said.

The low-grade trimmings come from the parts of the cow most susceptible to contamination, often close to the hide, which is highly exposed to fecal matter. But because the treatment of the trimmings -- simmering them in low heat, separating fat and tissue using a centrifuge and spraying them with ammonia gas to kill germs -- the United States Department of Agriculture says it’s safe to eat.

ABC News traveled across the country to the meat section of grocery stores to see if it’s in the ground beef they sell. At most stores it was impossible to tell for sure whether the beef contained the filler. At one store there was no way to tell from the labels, and the butchers did not know the answer.

There is only one way to know for certain that “pink slime” is not in your beef: If your meat is stamped USDA Organic, it’s pure meat with no filler.

Otherwise, you can’t know from the packaging because “pink slime” does not have to appear on the label. And the USDA is giving no indication it will force meat packers to lift the veil of secrecy any time soon.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Child Obesity Grows: School Desks Too Small for Heavier US Kids

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More than one-third of children and teens are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s starting to show in U.S. classrooms as more children are proving too large to fit into traditional school desks and more schools try to accommodate them.

CNN reports that the hefty changes in America’s youth are reflected by the uptick in sales and manufacture of larger goods -- from school desks to plus-sized children’s clothing lines to larger car seats.

Some companies are also adjusting their products to fit bigger consumers, offering larger, deeper seats or desks with adjustable heights. Others are noticing differences in sales.

Tony Ellison, chief executive officer of, a company that sells office and school furniture, told CNN that the company’s “big and tall” sizes have been selling better than standard sizes, and furniture made to fit older, bigger students is being purchased more often in elementary and middle school classrooms.

“That is an obesity trend reflected in the furniture,” Tom Brennan, president of the school furniture company School Outfitters, told CNN.

The changes also prompt questions about the balance between fighting childhood obesity in schools and accommodating children with different body shapes and sizes.

Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, told ABC News that it’s unfortunate that childhood obesity is having such a noticeable impact in the classroom, but that schools do have an obligation to accommodate students of all sizes, large or small.

“There’s no gain to punishing children for their size. They’re already stigmatized,” Foster said.

Studies have associated overweight and obesity with a number of psychological woes, like depression and anxiety, which can be compounded by the social stigma of being fat. Squeezing into an undersized desk or standing out in a larger seat can be an uncomfortable, humiliating experience for a child.

“Kids want to belong, right? They don’t want to be different,” Foster said. “The principle is that you would try to make the defaults accessible to kids of all sizes.”

Dr. Richard Deckelbaum, director of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, told ABC News that the changes in school furniture parallel the questions facing airlines on how to best accommodate obese adult passengers. He said schools’ solutions to the problem should focus on long-term changes to ease kids’ obesity rates, which would make larger school furniture obsolete.

“If you want to learn well, you have to at least be comfortable. But the best solution in the long term is prevention,” he said. “I would hope that even if schools did buy [larger furniture], the problem will go away in the next few years.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Allergic Girl's Death Raises Questions About School's Responsibility

Getty Images/Photo Researchers RM(RICHMOND, Va.) -- The death of a Virginia first grader has raised questions about how schools should handle severe allergies.

Ammaria Johnson, 7, died Monday after suffering an allergic reaction during recess at her Chesterfield County elementary school, Hopkins Elementary.

"She came to the school clinic after feeling she had hives and shortness of breath," Lt. Jason Elmore, a spokesman for the Chesterfield County Fire Department, told ABC News. It's unclear how long Johnson was in the clinic before school officials called 911 at 2:26 p.m.

"When emergency crews arrived, she was already in cardiac arrest in the clinic," said Elmore.

Johnson was rushed to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.

What caused the reaction is still under investigation, but Johnson's mother, Laura Pendleton, told local reporters the girl had a peanut allergy.

"We can only assume that at this time," said Elmore. "We have EMS protocols in place for allergic reactions and we performed those in hopes of saving her life, but unfortunately this time we could not."

Calls to Pendleton were not immediately returned. She arrived at the hospital after Johnson had died, Elmore said.

The death is still under investigation by the Chesterfield County Police Department, according to a spokeswoman, but the state medical examiner will not be involved.

Experts say Johnson could have been saved by an EpiPen -- a device that injects epinephrine, currently available only by prescription.

"The epinephrine reverses severe symptoms, giving time to get the person to an emergency room for monitoring and more care," said Dr. Scott Sicherer of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

But Hopkins Elementary had no such device on hand for Johnson.

Chesterfield County school policy states that parents are responsible for providing the school "with all daily and emergency medications prescribed by the student's health-care provider," and keeping medications up to date.

"For any medication, the school would have to be in possession of that medication to provide it," said Shawn Smith, a spokesman for Chesterfield County Public Schools. Even if the school had an EpiPen prescribed for another student, they would not be able to use it.

"The medication we receive, or should receive, has to be specific to that child, whether it's over-the-counter or prescription," Smith said.

Smith declined to comment on Johnson's case specifically, but said managing severe allergies starts at home.

"At the beginning of the school year, we sent information to parents outlining the different responsibilities for the family and the child, the principal, the teacher, the doctor and the nurse," he said. "First and foremost, is does begin at home. Working with their doctor, the family would outline a health care plan that deals with those severe allergies."

Pendleton told local reporters her daughter did have a plan, but said the school refused to take Johnson's EpiPen and failed to give her Benadryl -- an over-the-counter antihistamine also listed in her plan -- at the first sign of a reaction.

Because severe allergies can develop without warning, some experts say schools should stock EpiPens like bandages and other first-aid supplies.

A school EpiPen stash could soon be a reality with a proposed bill that would encourage states to adopt laws requiring schools to have EpiPens on hand. The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, proposed in December 2011, would mean EpiPens could be used for any student or staff member in an anaphylactic emergency.

The bill would include liability protection for school officials who give epinephrine in good faith, according to Maria Acebal, chief executive officer of the Fairfax, Va.-based Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, which championed the bill.

"No one in this country has ever been sued for giving epinephrine, to my knowledge," said Acebal. "All the lawsuits come about because school officials don't give it when it's needed."

In a healthy child, epinephrine can cause a rapid heart rate, nausea and light-headedness -- mild symptoms that wear off in 15 minutes. It would only be dangerous in children born with a congenital heart condition, which school officials would be aware of.

Acebal, whose eldest daughter has a food allergy, said her other children learned how to inject epinephrine by age 6.

"If I can teach a 6-year-old to do it, we can teach school staff," she said.

Acebal said having epinephrine on hand in school would give students, staff and parents added peace of mind.

"My heart breaks for Ammaria's family because any parent who has a child with a food allergy knows what it's like to fear that phone call from the school," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Schools Consider Putting Junk Food Back Into Vending Machines

Fuse/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Many school districts around the country are pulling vending machines out and putting healthier food in.  But schools in Seattle are thinking about doing the opposite.

Vending machines can mean big money -- for every bag of Doritos or pack of Skittles a kid buys on campus, the school gets a cut of it.  Now the school board in Seattle is considering relaxing its ban on unhealthy food because it is costing student governments hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Current rules in Seattle are stricter than federal guidelines, allowing only milk, fruit juice, baked chips, and oat-based granola bars.

Soon some junk food could be allowed back in.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Kids Still Slurping Down Sodas

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Sugary soda doesn't do a body much good, but neither do rules that ban their consumption from schools, a new study has found.

In an effort to combat childhood obesity, 14 states in 2009-2010 banned soda from vending machines in schools, while 19 states prohibited students from buying these soft drinks on lunch lines.  About 25 states do not limit the kinds of drinks youngsters purchase in school.

While kids were consuming less soda in states that banned their purchase, 30 percent of middle-school kids still managed to drink sports and fruit beverages that contain high amounts of sugar, about the same percentage as those in states without soda-free policies.

The report, released by the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, also revealed that students still drank sugar-sweetened beverages outside of schools that banned them, a finding that indicates more has to be done to educate parents about the drawbacks of kids downing sodas, sports drinks and fruit juices.

It's believed that adolescents get about 13 percent of their daily caloric intake from these drinks, which can lead to weight gain and serious conditions such as diabetes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New York City to Mandate Sex Education in Public Schools

Creatas/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For the first time in nearly 20 years, New York City's public middle and high schools will be required to teach students about sex.

In an email to principals Tuesday night, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said mandatory sex education will start in the second semester of the 2011-2012 school year. The curriculum will be flexible but will include lessons on how to use condoms, how to avoid unwanted sexual encounters, and how to respect relationship partners.

"We have students who are having sex before the age of 13; students who have had multiple sexual partners; and students who aren't protecting themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS," wrote Walcott. "I believe the school system has an important role to play with regard to educating our children about sex and the potential consequences of engaging in risky behavior."

The mandate applies strictly to the New York City public school system. New York State currently requires one semester of health education in both middle and high school, but does not mandate sex education. Only 20 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education, according to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual health.

Schools will have the choice of when and how to incorporate sex education into their current health curriculum. Walcott strongly recommended, however, that it take place in sixth or seventh grade, in middle school, and in the ninth or tenth grade, in high school. He also recommended two commercially available programs: HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk.

"The programs that are effective, and involve some lecturing by teachers and a variety of interactive activities, like small group or class discussions and role playing to help young people practice saying no to unwanted sex," said Doug Kirby, senior research scientist at ETR Associates, a nonprofit organization that develops health education programs that include HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk.

Kirby said the curriculums are age-appropriate, meaning the focus for younger students is on abstinence, shifting more toward condom and contraception use for high school students. And contrary to the notion that sex education will rush kids into having sex, Kirby said four separate studies found that Reduce the Risk delayed the initiation of sex.

Walcott emphasized that parents will have the opportunity to hold kids back from specific lessons on birth control for religious or cultural reasons.

"I have always believed that parents should have the right to opt out of certain sex education lessons such as conversations on prevention and birth control, as they will in this case," he wrote. "But I also feel we have a responsibility to offer our students access to information that will keep them safe and healthy."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio