Do More to Protect Our Children

By Beacon Staff

As a parent of a Bigfork High School football player, I have become increasingly disillusioned along with other parents, (who wish to remain anonymous fearing their football player will be benched) at the lack of action from the Bigfork School District.

Last year, at the beginning of the football season, we (the community, coaches, and students) were devastated witnesses to the collapse and subsequent death of 17-year-old Jeffrey Bowman on the first day of football practice. The Bigfork High School athletic program had no emergency protocol for our coaches to follow: The gates to the field were locked slowing down rescue vehicles; not one of the schools three AED’s (Automatic External Defibrillators) were on the field. Now, one year later there are still very little, if any, changes in that flawed system. There are still no updated emergency protocols. There is still no mandatory CPR and emergency training for coaches and/or teachers. There is still no AED being brought to the field.

At the “mandatory parent/player” football meeting parents were told that our children could not play without a parental permission slip and a physical (Jeffrey Bowman’s parents had not given him permission to play, nor had he gotten a physical – a requirement of Bigfork High School, and every other high school in the state). Thankfully, it seems that BHS has addressed that part of the problem. (BHS was fined $50 by the Montana High School Athletic Association for failing to follow regulations). However, there was no mention at the meeting of safety protocols (previous or improved).

Commendably, BHS has acknowledged the need for AEDs. It has just acquired its fourth. Unfortunately, as BHS has experienced the hard way, just having an AED hanging on the wall is not what saves lives. Bigfork superintendent Russ Kinzer admited in an Aug. 26 Daily Inter Lake article that BHS is still not bringing an AED to the field. Kinzer stated: “They’re fairly high maintenance and subject to environmental conditions” and “it’s not something you put in a backpack and pack around.” However, with a little research, I discovered that the AEDs operating range is between 32 degrees to 122 degrees. I also found that athletic staff, from Arizona to Alaska, carry them on the field along with first aid kits for practices and games. I don’t believe that Bigfork gets hotter than the desert in Arizona.

Schools all over the country are changing their protocol in the interest of saving students’ lives, and bringing AEDs to the field. Do BHS administrators have another reason for dragging their feet in the mud on this issue? The current “lack of” policy is fine as long as nothing of last August’s magnitude happens again. Unless we change our policies how do we expect history to not repeat itself? How can we expect the coaches and trainers in charge of our children to protect them if they aren’t given the tools they need?

Are the school board members and Kinzer going to just sit back and wait for the next death of a student before any action is taken? I would certainly hope not! An emergency protocol to arm the coaches with the tools necessary to protect our children should be implemented. For example: 1) Gates should remain unlocked at all times during football practice and any event on the field. 2) All coaches, assistants and trainers should become CPR certified. 3) An AED should be carried to the field during every practice and during any event on the field. The implementation of the above three effortless and inexpensive suggestions certainly wouldn’t cost the district more time or money than, say, defending against a lawsuit.

Kinzer also admits that BHS has not required its employees to be trained to use the AED machine. He stated: “There is not training required, really.” An American Red Cross CPR trainer explained to me that, even though AEDs are simple to use, it is best to become familiar with the machine due to the urgency in which they are used. The American Red Cross has its next CPR/AED training on Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. Isn’t an hour or so of learning about emergency training worth the lives of our children?

The BHS school district needs to assure parents that it has trained staff looking after their students, and it needs to make conscientious decisions regarding the safety of its students. Bigfork School District needs to put an emergency protocol plan in place; conduct mandatory CPR training for coaches and teachers and staff, and put an AED on the field immediately.

Bigfork residents consider the outcome of the above request when re-hiring and voting for persons who represent the Bigfork School District. Remember, the next child/grandchild/friend who needs CPR and the use of an AED could be yours.

Serra Valentine is a resident of Bigfork