Should School Districts Pay for Student Obesity Treatment?
As you read this post, understand it is terribly difficult to be an obese young person. The issue is not that childhood obesity is trivial or does not warrant discussion. The question is: who/what should be responsible for a young person’s weight loss program?
I remember a conversation I had with my superintendent about tracking student BMIs (without parental knowledge) and if this is the role of a school to track physical information on students. He became quite frustrated with me and asked me, “don’t you think obesity is a problem”? I responded that of course I did, but I believed it was an issue between the parents, the child and the pediatrician. I offered that anorexia, bulimia and obesity are serious problems, but in many instances, they can be a result of genetic and/or emotional issues and the school is ill equipped and not the appropriate entity to deal with these physical and/or emotional issues.
I then asked the superintendent if he believed that parents are not able to deal with these problems on their own with their children. He answered “yes”. I must have looked rather shocked and he then stated that “most parents don’t know what tv shows their children watch or what they eat”. He believes the school must step in and assist these kids because the parents are not doing their job. I responded that the schools might do better by teaching the students academics and if the school had trouble with a child’s health situation, the parents needed to be contacted by the school with the teacher’s/administrator’s concern.
When I read a news account about the Independence School District sending 12 students to a South Carolina health camp for 2 semesters for their obesity, I thought about my conversation with my superintendent. Did this school think that the parents were ineffective and needed the school to make medical decisions for their child? Do the parents believe the school should assume the responsibility of monitoring a child’s physical condition? The cost of sending one student is $29,000 per semester. According to this Channel One news item, the district paid $5,000 per student (although it doesn’t state whether this cost was for just one semester or two semesters) and the rest came from fundraising and family contributions. From kansascity.com and Independence students who shed many pounds at South Carolina camp hit a rough patch:
They had returned triumphantly twice to cheering crowds at Kansas City International Airport, after the first semester in December 2012 and then after the second semester in May.
They had shed anywhere from around 60 to more than 100 pounds each. They came fortified with healthy food recipes, grocery shopping strategies and fitness regimens.
The partnership between the Independence School District and MindStream Academy in Bluffton, S.C., was unique. The limited public education dollars allotted each student were combined with grants raised by MindStream in an attempt to help the mostly middle-class and low-income Independence families afford the exotic camp experience.
Dangerously overweight students were trying to change their lives.
MindStream and the district were trying to create a model program to democratize exclusive private fitness camps.
In both cases, reality is hard.
Independence has decided the idea is not sustainable, spokeswoman Nancy Lewis said. The district does not plan to send any more students to MindStream and is carrying on with its locally based health programs.
MindStream is still reaching out to public school systems but working mostly closer to home.
Financing Your Child’s Tuition
The following sets out some suggestions to help you fund or finance MindStream’s fees
School District Funding
All public schools in the US are funded through a combination of federal and state tax allocations. The amounts vary from school to school and state to state, but the funds allocated to all schools are based on the number of students enrolled in the school system. If your child is diagnosed as obese and in need of remedial treatment, it is possible that your school system will be required to allocate the funds it normally receives to a remedial alternative educational provider such as MindStream. We suggest that you contact your school system to learn more about this potential funding source.
Section 504 Assistance
Section 504 (a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) is a Federal Law that obliges all public schools to accommodate any individual with a disability. The AMA (American Medical Association) has voted to classify obesity as a disease, which could result in disabilities. As a result, if your child is diagnosed by your physician as obese, we believe your school could be legally obligated to make accommodations, where these accommodations could possibly include assistance in providing or funding a remedial program such as that provided by MindStream. Please contact your physician and school to learn more about this.
Section 502 of the IRS Tax Code instructions defines Obesity as a “Medical Condition” that can require treatment, particularly if the student is diagnosed by a physician as obese and at risk. As a result, subject to your Tax Filing status, the potential exists that the fees paid to MindStream for a student to attend its health and wellness program could be claimed as a Schedule A deduction on your IRS 1040. For more information, click here.
MindStream recommends that you consult with your tax advisor to further investigate this potential medical deduction.
Flexible Spending Account or Health Savings Account
Families may also be able to pay for MindStream tuition with a medical Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA).
If you have a FSA or HSA through your employer, you are no doubt aware that it is extremely beneficial for you to use this account for all allowable expenses, as you will be spending pre-tax dollars, thereby significantly reducing the effective expense.
Medical Insurance Reimbursement
As a key facet of MindStream’s health and wellness program is weekly Counseling and Equine Therapy. While the specific coverages of health insurance providers varies considerably (and also reimbursement policies and amounts), it is possible that the cost of the aforementioned therapy is reimbursable under your health insurance coverage. As a courtesy, MindStream can provide monthly invoices for all Counseling sessions at an average rate of $2,000 per month.
Please check with your physician and health insurance provider to see if they will reimburse for counseling. Please note that MindStream can offer no assurances or guarantees that these costs are claimable or recoverable in whole or part.
There are various forms of loan financing that can be utilized to spread the cost of tuition at MindStream. We encourage you to consider the following:
- Credit Cards: This is quick and easy but will also accumulate the highest interest charges. We advise caution when considering this as a form of long term financing.
- Second Mortgage Financing: In the event you have equity in your home, you may wish to consider approaching your mortgage lender to secure a loan. This type of financing, if available, is long term and low cost resulting in affordable monthly payments.
- Personal Loan Financing: Generally, the availability of Personal Loans will depend upon your credit history and collateral (i.e. pledgeable assets). There are many financial institutions that have loan programs, but if you are not familiar we would recommend considering: www.lightstream.com, www.clarkbhf.com, www.salliemae.com or www.wellsfargo.com.
Creative Funding Ideas
The problem of obesity and its long term detrimental effects are becoming increasingly recognized by healthcare providers, government agencies and the public at large. As a result, we encourage Parents and Students to use any and all creative means to solicit contributions for the stated purpose of helping your child – you may be pleasantly surprised at the level of support you receive. Some ideas for solicitation include:
- Go to www.pledgie.com, and create your own website to enable communications with prospective contributors.
- Make sure you speak with family and friends or your place of worship about your funding needs.
- Talk to your employer. Many companies these days have “Employee Assistance Programs” specifically structured to help in situations like this.
- Consider borrowing from your Credit Union, which can often be repaid through insurance reimbursement and tax deductions.
The total cost of attendance of MindStream Academy is $28,500 per semester.
MindStream Academy has a plan to take advantage of federal, state, district grants, as well as having tuition paid by a school if a child was designated as disabled because of his/her obesity. Parents are also given the option to take out a second mortgage on their homes to pay for the tuition. Given the financial problems of MindStream, the founders may be ineffective grant writers, other school districts balked at the cost per semester per student, or parents did not decide to take on enormous debt and instead, chose closer options for their child’s treatment. The academy sends its students home with “food recipes, grocery shopping strategies and fitness regimens”. Could these children not learn this in health class?
Even as MindStream is facing dissolution, the attention to student physical information by schools is increasing. Note the Channel One link mentioned above confirming district cost. Here’s more on Channel One: it comes up on an Internet search as providing obesity curriculum aligned to the Common Core:
Schools are battling the obesity epidemic by incorporating health lessons into … educational materials are aligned to Common Core State Standards (CCSS) …
As districts concentrate more and more on students’ BMIs and non-academic attributes, I wonder where the parental responsibility ends and the school’s authority begins in students’ lives. In the Independence School District, parental responsibility and/or authority to make medical decisions had been granted to the state. Does this make anyone else feel uneasy? Should school districts be spending vast amounts of time and money in areas that have traditionally been the responsibility of families?
If obese children do avail themselves of an outcome based program of physical goals from a school, what happens if they do not reach the goal or start back-sliding after reaching the goal? What happens if the child and/or parent refuses to comply? Do we hold the parents accountable? Does the school ask for reimbursement from the family since the “Return on Investment” is not realized? Does the school keep stepping in to control a student’s weight and BMI? Should the school assume a parental responsibility for a child’s physical well-being? Who/what should be responsible for a young person’s weight loss program?