OGDEN -- An Ogden parent is concerned that her daughter and other children at James Madison Elementary School are being sent outside on school mornings.
Monica Thornton's 6-year-old daughter has asthma, and the dropping temperatures and poor air quality wreak havoc on her lungs, especially when she has to spend time outside for recess and in the mornings between breakfast at the school and the start of classes.
So Thornton said she became alarmed last week when she found out her daughter was being sent outside after breakfast for the 10 to 15 minutes before school starts.
Thornton's father takes the girl to school because of conflicting work schedules between Thornton and her husband.
When Thornton's father, Scott Berry, said her daughter had to spend time outside after eating, she talked with the principal about it.
The principal told her that her daughter didn't need to go back outside and she could stay inside, especially because of her asthma condition.
The principal added that the district has a policy about sending kids outside unless it is raining, snowing or a certain temperature.
James Madison Principal Julie Palmer-Gnotta referred all questions and comments to Ogden School District.
Thornton believed the problem had been solved, but reports persisted that her daughter was being sent out in the cold.
Thornton said she went to the school with her daughter Thursday morning and, sure enough, when the children were waiting in the commons area for school to start, the kids and parents were asked to go outside.
"She started herding all of us outside, and I just thought, 'Oh no, I'm not doing this,' " Thornton said.
She went straight to the district office to voice her concerns.
Thornton said she was told that students can always stay in if they choose to and that it is a good idea to have a note from a doctor stating medical concerns so the school can have it on file.
Thornton is angry and frustrated because she went through the whole process with the doctor's note and paperwork in the fall and doesn't believe she should have to do it again.
Between 300 and 340 students eat breakfast at James Madison every morning, and Thornton is not only worried for her daughter's safety, but also for the safety and health of the other students.
"Parents are very concerned about this," she said.
District spokeswoman Donna Corby advises all parents who have children with special health needs to sit down with the teacher and principal to make a medical plan, including doctor's notes, for the students so it can be in their file each year.
"It's always best to have the latest information," Corby said. "We would like them to do it in the fall, and here it is December."
Thornton said she has gone over a medical plan. The teacher holds an inhaler for her daughter and knows she needs special attention.
Her daughter also has to follow a special diet, Thornton said. She's frustrated because she and her husband are on alternating work schedules and are doing all they can for their daughter to be as safe as possible.
Corby said the district does not have a specific policy on recess and being outside during varying weather conditions because conditions at the schools can be different, she said.
"You don't have the same temperatures at Taylor Canyon as you do at James Madison," Corby said regarding the wind chill factor at Taylor Canyon Elementary on 20th Street and Taylor Avenue, which is closer to the mouth of Ogden Canyon.
Principals at the 14 elementary schools in the Ogden district are advised to check several weather sites and the Utah Department of Air Quality website each morning, then base outside play decisions on those numbers.
"It basically comes down to good old common sense with the weather conditions," Corby said.
Principals have the final say about recess, but the district has advised principals that any student who wants to stay in because of weather or air quality can do so.
Corby agrees that the safety and well-being of the children are top priority.
"Our mission states that all children will have a safe and nurturing environment, and good health is part of that," she said.
Corby said it is important to keep all lines of communication open between parents, district nurses, teachers and principals, and she plans to help work the problem out so the safety and health of the students is protected.
Thornton hopes that is the case but said she feels that making the kids go outside in the cold is making them sick. Then the child misses school, she says, and the school calls angry because the child is missing school.
"We don't know what to do. They are making our kids go outside, and so we have to keep them home when they are sick," she said.
"I don't understand why this is happening."