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As a legislative deadline draws near, lawmakers move a group of bills to help school children stay healthier.
By Rose Hoban
With a major legislative deadline approaching on April 30, lawmakers in the House of Representatives have been acting quickly to move bills addressing health and schools through committee and floor votes.
After hearing a flurry of bills today, the House Education K-12 Committee sent bills to the House floor that address some health care issues in the school system.
Bills have a hard deadline – known as crossover – to get through at least one chamber by April 30, or they die and cannot be re-introduced until the next so-called long session in 2017.
One of the bills heard was one that would make it easier for families and municipal groups to use school playgrounds after school hours. The so-called “Right to Play” bill passed committee and now goes to the House floor for a vote.
Preventing sudden heart attacks in students
“When I went down, there were people around me that were prepared and understood and who knew what to do,” said Rep. Becky Carney (D-Charlotte), referring to the day in 2009 when she slumped over her desk from sudden cardiac arrest at the General Assembly.
She was revived using CPR and an automatic external defibrillator.
Carney told the committee that she wanted to see that coaches, school nurses and others involved in sports in middle and high schools receive annual training in managing sudden cardiac arrest and in concussion treatment.
“There are not that many [deaths],” Carney said, “But, personally, I had no warning.”
According to a report from the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research housed at UNC-Chapel Hill, in 2013 there were 17 deaths from heat stroke, cardiac arrest and traumatic injuries during the the 2013 football season. About 4.2 million people played football at all levels that year.
“There are a number of students in the last five years who have died, either during summer practices or early football season,” said another of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Fayetteville). “We hope that in giving parents more information and coaches the ability to have CPR training we’ll be able to negate any more deaths.”
Glazier and Carney had been contacted by the Pennsylvania parents of Simon Sudman, a 3-month-old boy who died from sudden cardiac arrest. The Sudmans created a not-for-profit that has promoted similar legislation that’s become law in Pennsylvania and six other states.
Carney pointed out that the bill did not represent an unfunded mandate. Carney said materials for training coaches and teachers are available for free.
The bill passed the committee unanimously and was passed unanimously by the full House later Tuesday.
Healthier after-school programs
Many kids spend their hours after school watching television and not playing outdoors, even in after-school programs. But a new bill seeks to make it a little easier for parents to find after-school programs that will engage kids in healthier pursuits.
House Bill 474 creates a “Healthy Out‑of‑School Time (HOST) Recognition Program,” a voluntary program where child care facilities can meet a set of standards and be certified as a HOST program. Standards include providing kids with 60 minutes of activity per day, low-sugar foods and reduced exposure to television, videos and other screen time.
Bill sponsor Rep. Josh Dobson (R-Nebo) emphasized that the program would not be a mandate.
“One out of every three children and youth under the age of 17 in North Carolina is overweight or obese,” Dobson said. “We just believe that establishing this voluntary HOST recognition program is one small way we can help change that.”
The bill exempts Track Out camps, which serve kids who go to year-round schools, from child care facility standards. Many kids who go to year-round schools have short breaks between short semesters. Those kids often go to camp-like programs for the weeks they’re not in school.
“I think it’s worth noting that Track Out is like summer camp for those children who go to summer day camp for six to seven weeks during the summer,,” Dobson said. “Summer day camp, however, is not defined as a licensed child care facility.”
Sheree Vodicka, head of the N.C. Alliance of YMCAs, helped lawmakers work on the bill. She said that after-school programs could use the new certificate of healthy standards in their marketing to parents. And she said the hope was that the certificate program would create demand from parents that programs become healthier.
She also said the law would compel child care centers that use funds from the USDA Summer Food Service Program, which serves kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch during the school year, to meet the HOST standards year round.
“It would be a better standard than the one they’re currently held to,” Vodicka said.
The bill passed out of the House Education K-12 Committee and will be heard in the House Health Committee on Thursday.
Improved school safety
Another bill would enhance school-safety measures that were passed in last year’s budget bill. The bill adds elements to School Risk Management plans that were created last year, which schools are required to have to help police respond better in the case of emergency.
The bill also:
- requires the Department of Public Instruction to create a statewide school risk and response management system;
- moves the frequency of school safety drills from being done once every two years to annually;
- creates smartphone apps students can use to anonymously report threats to their schools;
- requires every school to have a crisis kit that includes basic first‑aid supplies, communications devices and other items recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police;
- requires schools to give facility keys to local police for their use in responding to emergencies; and
- encourages charter schools to meet all these requirements
The bill also adds funds for additional school counselors. According to bill sponsor Rep. Bryan Holloway (R-King), money for the counselors was cut from bills proposed last session. Instead, bare-bones provisions were added to the final budget bills in 2013 and 2014.
Holloway said even though many of these provisions were already passed, many schools have lagged at fulfilling some of the requirements, such as getting a crisis kit into each school.
“This bill, in my opinion, is adjustments to current law,” Holloway said.