A West Hartford mom is wondering why her sons’s kindergarten teacher needs to know if he was born vaginally or by c-section.
By Ronni Newton
An “odd” question on a kindergarten pre-matriculation form inspired a West Hartford mom to write an article that appeared in the New York Times’ “Motherlode” blog on Friday, and has also prompted a discussion about what kind of information schools should be asking parents.
Cara Paiuk said that her husband was somewhat mindlessly filling out the boatload of forms that West Hartford Public Schools had handed out when they went to the kindergarten registration session at Aiken Elementary School for their oldest child. She happened to glance at what he was doing and saw what she thought was an absurd question to include on the form: “Type of birth?” Following the question were places to check off either “Vaginal” or “Cesarian.”
“I ripped the form out from under his pen. Why he was answering this question? Come to think of it, why was anyone answering it? The ‘baby’ who had resulted from that birth was 5 years old and well over any possible ramifications of it I could imagine,” Paiuk wrote in her New York Times piece.
Paiuk, who departed the “Corporate America” life to work as a writer and photographer, found the question appalling. So she did what any good writer would do – she researched it and wrote about it.
She contacted the Board of Education and the Superintendent’s office. She filed a Freedom of Information request to find out when the form had last been revised to include that question.
The issue wasn’t that she was embarrassed to answer; she just doesn’t think it’s anyone’s business, or even remotely relevant information for her child’s kindergarten and future teachers to use in determining how best to educate him. She also feels she shouldn’t have to disclose information that’s really her medical history, which should be protected by HIIPA, to the schools.
“The Superintendent [of Schools Tom Moore] said it was an odd request and that they will look into it,” Paiuk said. Board of Education Chair Mark Overmyer-Velazquez told her it “seems to be an antiquated practice,” said Paiuk.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Nancy DePalma said Tuesday that she agrees. “At the time it was probably written it must have been somehow relevant to the health forms,” DePalma said. She doesn’t know how long that question has been included on the form.
The form itself is overwhelming, Paiuk said. It has about 145 fields and is six pages long. She has concern with other questions as well. Paiuk said she finds it “phenomenally crazy.”
“It asks about lead paint,” Paiuk said. The “lead” section asks about the age of the child’s home, whether or not any recent renovations have taken place, whether or not the child chews any “unusual things, i.e., woodwork, pencils, crib, paint chips, or plaster,” and then in the same section asks if the child seems “tired, fussy, or cranky for more than 4 to 6 hours everyday.”
“Teachers are not really qualified to interpret that,” Paiuk said.
Paiuk said she spoke to the head nurse for West Hartford Public Schools and recounted that conversation in her New York Times piece: “And why not ask about other possible medical explanations for kindergarten challenges? Shouldn’t they, I asked, include the question about whether a child is vegan so a teacher can look for vitamin deficiencies? ‘We don’t like to ask questions about food,’ she said. ‘Parents are very sensitive to that.’ But questions about our vaginas are A-OK!” wrote Paiuk.
Paiuk’s goal is to get rid of the “type of birth” question completely, or at least re-phrase it to ask about “birth trauma” which could happen during a vaginal or c-section birth. “It would be nice if they reviewed the entire form,” Paiuk said.
DePalma said that she’s glad Paiuk has brought this issue to light, and that West Hartford Public Schools had already started looking into “transitions” forms – information requested when a child begins school or moves to middle and high school.
DePalma said that West Hartford Public Schools encourages parents to provide relevant information, especially during the process of transitioning to and between schools. “As part of the SRBI [Scientific Research-Based Intervention] process we look at all peripheral things,” DePalma said.
However, DePalma that it’s time to take a look at the form, and also research what other districts do. “This year we will focus on this and determine how we can make a better form. There are better ways we can find out the information we need without being so personal,” DePalma said.
DePalma also said that there’s no requirement that Paiuk answer all of the questions. “It shouldn’t preclude [her son] from transitioning,” she said.
Paiuk said that most of the people who have read her New York Times piece agree with her. The article itself has 132 comments at last count, and Paiuk said there are many more comments on social media sites.
And according to Paiuk, nothing on the existing form says whether it’s optional or mandatory. “I’m not returning this in any way, shape, or form,” Paiuk said.
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