“Burn calories, take the stairs” sign causes controversy


Rachel Rudyak

A sign that reads, “Burn calories, not electricity,” is posted near the stairs of the 600s building. This sign has caused a lot of controversy amongst students, and prompted some students to speak out in favor of its removal.

Content warning: mentions of eating disorders

Three signs that read “Burn Calories, not Electricity. Take the Stairs!” were posted by Los Altos High School’s construction company next to the stairs of the 600s building. The signs raised concerns from students who claim that they send a harmful message to those who feel insecure about their bodies.

The sign’s intended purpose, according to Associate Superintendent Business Services Mike Mathiesen, was to encourage students to avoid the elevator in order to save electricity. This is part of an overarching effort in helping the school “attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification,” an accolade relating to energy efficiency. Additionally, the sign’s intent was to “promote occupant health and well-being”, according to QKA, LAHS’s architect firm, which is why the calorie part was included in its message.

“[QKA] plans to remove the sign and either replace [it] with a better one or just simply not replace,” Mathiesen said.

Following the sign’s posting at the beginning of the year, sophomore Julia Pletcher started a petition to take it down because of the harmful message she believes the sign sends to young students who might feel insecure about their bodies. In her petition, she urged LAHS to take down the sign “to help create a better [school] environment focused more on mental health and well being”.

“[The petition] was a backup if they were hesitant about [taking the sign down], or if they said, ‘We don’t want to do anything about it,’” Julia said. “My friend and I started the petition and then we had a good response from the school, so we were just hoping they’d take [the sign] down.”

LAHS staff and administration had no involvement in the design or posting of the sign. LAHS administration is unable to remove the signs themselves since the buildings are still under construction, and full ownership rests with the construction company, according to Assistant Principal Galen Rosenberg.

“We are considering removing or replacing them once we officially take ownership of the new buildings,” Rosenberg said.

Many other students expressed their concerns about the sign in the comments of the petition.

“As someone with an eating disorder and in recovery, I find this sign absolutely disgusting,” one comment reads. “For starters, this can be extremely triggering for people already suffering with an [eating disorder], let alone influence others to burn calories.”

“This should not be displayed in a place of learning for children,” another comment says.

Although the petition has 150 signatures, Julia has received some criticism about her involvement with trying to take the sign down.

“There were some people who were calling me a snowflake and saying that I was making a big deal out of things,” Julia said. “It’s just kind of annoying because if it doesn’t affect you, that’s great, but it affects other people.”

A poll on Instagram shows that students have mixed opinions about the effects of the sign — around half of the responses are from students who claim that it is sending a harmful message while the other half claim that the sign is well-written with a positive intended message.

Julia asked Assistant Principal Suzanne Woolfolk about the sign’s removal process a few days after creating the petition, and Woolfolk then asked construction to remove the signs; she was under the impression that the signs had been removed.

But the signs still remain posted.

“I’ve asked that construction remove them multiple times (and they had been),” Woolfolk said. “[I’m] not sure if there’s a remainder out there.”