The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act
Recent studies have concluded that the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) among high school student athletes is higher than previously thought. An observational study of 2,149 high schools over a two-year period found that the incidence of SCA for student athletes was 1.14 per 100,000 versus .31 per 100,000 for non-athletes.1 In another study of over 19 million student athletes in six states, which covered a six-year period, researchers found that there were 109 episodes of SCA which included 74 deaths, and that the rate of SCA in male basketball players was very high.2
As a result of the concern about SCA, in September 2012, Janet’s Law3 was approved and requires that, among other things, all schools have an automated external defibrillator (AED).4 SCA remains a concern and, as a result, this year the Legislature enacted the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Act5 (Act). On January 17, 2014, Governor Christie signed the bill into law. The Act became effective immediately and has several important provisions which should be adopted into board policy.First, the Act provides that any student who exhibits symptoms or early warning signs of SCA while participating in an athletic activity must be immediately removed from the activity by the coach.6 Second, if a student exhibits symptoms or early warning signs of SCA at any time prior to or after an athletic activity, the student is prohibited from participating in athletic activities.7 In either set of circumstances, the student will be ineligible to participate in any athletic activity until s/he is evaluated and receives written clearance from a licensed physician.8 An “athletic activity” for purposes of the ACT means:
interscholastic athletics; an athletic contest or competition, other than interscholastic athletics, that is sponsored by or associated with a school district or nonpublic school, including cheerleading and club-sponsored activities; and any practice or interschool practice or scrimmage for those activities.9
Third, the new law imposes certain obligations on boards and school administrators with respect to coaches. Boards must ensure that any coach who knowingly fails to follow the law regarding the removal of students, who show signs of SCA, must be suspended from coaching for the remainder of the season for a first violation.10 For a second violation, the coach must be suspended for the remainder of the season and for the entire next season. For a third violation, the coach must be permanently suspended from coaching any athletic activity.
The Act indicates that it is appropriate for school districts to hold an informational meeting prior to the start of each athletic season for the benefit of students and parents regarding the symptoms, early warning signs, prevention, and treatment of SCA.11 School administrators should decide whether such informational meetings will be held, who should conduct them, and what information should be discussed.
The Act also amends N.J.S.A. 18A:40-41 which had required the Commissioner, in consultation with other organizations, to develop a pamphlet about student-athletes and SCA. The Act now requires an update to the pamphlet; the pamphlet must now state that the early warning signs include fainting, labored breathing, chest pains, dizziness, and abnormal heart rate. The pamphlet must also state the risks associated with continuing to play or practice after experiencing these symptoms, and must include a form to be signed by the student-athlete and his/her parent or guarding acknowledging review and receipt of the pamphlet. In addition, the Act now requires the Commissioner to post this information on the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) website.12
The Act requires every school district to distribute the pamphlet to student-athletes’ parents or guardians. Every student, who wants to participate in an athletic activity, and his/her parent must sign and return the form in the pamphlet to the school district.13 The form must be signed and returned each year, prior to the student’s participation in the athletic activity.14 Thus, it is very important that school administrators, in particular, athletic directors and building principals be aware of this requirement.
School officials are reminded that all coaches in public school districts must hold a current certification in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an AED from the American Red Cross, American Heart Association, or another program recognized by the Department of Health.15 This necessarily means that school administrators must ensure that their coaches undergo such training and get the appropriate certificate.
In light of the Act, it is recommended that school administrators should have their boards of education adopt policies consistent with it. It is recommended that school handbooks regarding participation in athletics be updated to reflect the requirements of the law and the completion of the form in the pamphlet from the DOE. The signed forms should be filed in each student’s education record in the event of litigation or an audit by the DOE. Coaches should be provided training on the new law, and an audit should be done to ensure that all coaches hold the proper CPR/AED certification. School officials should also consider holding informational meetings regarding SCA, and questions regarding the Act and its implementation should be directed to the board attorney.
- Incidence of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in High School Student Athletes on School Campus, Heart Rhythm Journal (April 11, 2014).
- The Incidence of Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Death in United States High School Athletes, British Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 40, Issue 7 (April 2014).
- Pub.L. 2012, ch. 51.
- For additional discussion about Janet’s Law, refer to NJASA Administrative Guide, New Laws Affecting Student Safety and Privacy, Vol. 43, No. 8 (August 2013).
- Pub.L. 2013, ch. 209.
- See N.J.S.A. 18A:40-41h(a).
- N.J.S.A. 18A:40-41h(b).
- See id; N.J.S.A. 18A:40-41h(a).
- N.J.S.A. 18A:40-41a.
- N.J.S.A. 18A:40-41h(c).
- See N.J.S.A. 18A:40-41g.
- See N.J.S.A. 18A:40-41 (as amended).
- N.J.S.A. 18A:40-41a.