Metro-east school districts are scrambling to figure out how to comply with a new law that will require them to teach students how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and how to use a defibrillator.
Beginning next school year, Illinois high schools will be required to teach students how to administer CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator. The new mandate was signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn last week.
"We are going to have to figure out the best and most efficient way to get it done," said Jeff Dosier, superintendent of Belleville School District 201. Approximately 5,000 students will attend Belleville East and West high schools next school year.
"I think it's kind of like any other mandate: Who can argue with the idea -- it's very important," Dosier said. "But it's a new mandate. Unfunded mandates make it difficult."
The cost of training all students on CPR and AEDs has yet to be determined, according to Dosier.
Dosier questioned whether special education students will be required to receive the training as well. "That will make it difficult," he said.
The law includes no wording excluding any students. However, students whose parents file a written objection would not be required to undergo the training.
Dosier said freshmen likely will receive the training as part of their health classes starting next school year. However, the district will need to determine the best way to train the sophomores, juniors and seniors.
"I think it can be implemented into our curriculum relatively easily," Dosier said, as most students take health class freshman year. "That's easy to implement as we move forward. The implementation with the older kids may be difficult, but we are confident we can get it done."
O'Fallon School District 203 Superintendent Darcy Benway is also concerned with the cost, whether it's buying equipment and supplies and training current staff to become certified CPR/AED instructors, or the cost of contracting with an outside organization to provide the training.
The law states the training must be in accordance with standards of the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association or another nationally-recognized certifying organization.
Benway estimated four to six class periods, which could be spent on other instructional lessons, will be lost as a result of the required CPR/AED training. "Some of the current curriculum will have to be eliminated to make room for the new mandate," she said.
Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, voted against the bill. "I'm opposed to all mandates for schools, because I believe it's important we give local schools control over how they teach children," he said.
McCarter questioned why the law didn't mandate that teachers learn CPR and how to operate an AED. "I don't think that bill was thought through well enough," he said.
East St. Louis School District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver said district officials will be examining the law to ensure the district complies with its mandates.
"Our students' safety, along with their academic progress, drives our decisions," Culver said. "We will be looking at our professional development schedule, our health and physical education classes and our budget to determine the best way to train our students at the lowest cost."
The bill was inspired by the death of a student at St. Charles North High School during a practice for the drill team in 2008. She collapsed and died of a heart condition. There was a portable defibrillator nearby, but it wasn't used on her until paramedics arrived 13 minutes after the initial emergency call.
A defibrillator is a portable device that delivers electrical therapy to a person suffering cardiac arrest. The Red Cross says an AED is the only effective treatment for restoring a regular heart rhythm during sudden cardiac arrest and is an easy-to-operate tool for someone with no medical background.
Opponents of the legislation argued it amounts to another unfunded mandate on schools. Proponents say it will save lives.
"It is not often our high school students are faced with the opportunity to save a life," Quinn said in a statement. "Should an emergency arise, we want our students ready to step in and take action. This common-sense law will make sure they are better prepared to help their classmates, teachers, family and friends in case of an emergency."
District 201 teachers were trained to use AEDS when they were installed on the campuses of Belleville East and West. Dosier said each high school has seven AEDs.
The Illinois Federation of Teachers, a teacher union, was a proponent of the legislation. "We're glad to see another step toward the continued safety of our students," said spokeswoman Aviva Bowen.
The Illinois State Board of Education at one point opposed the bill, but later was neutral, according to spokeswoman Mary Fergus.
"We recognize that there's a cost associated with it, but we hope it's something that schools will find valuable as the law aims to train students in an important skill that could save lives," she said.