With the hot, steamy days of summer at hand and athletic practices just around the corner, the School Board voted Tuesday to spend $1,000 to buy wet bulb thermometers to help keep students safe.
The board members also said they wanted the new devices to go to coaches with instructions and guidelines so that they would know when the thermometers register a reading that could indicate a danger to students.
The need for new guidelines for coaches was raised by parents earlier this summer when several came before the board seeking set rules for coaches and other participants of athletic events. They were concerned about times when their children became ill or saw others become ill due to strenuous activity.
Since then, the board has talked about new guidelines for how to handle student practices during the hot months.
Board member Carol Snyder suggested that the district purchase devices called wet bulb or heat index thermometers which can tell the heat index by measuring the combined effects of temperature and humidity. At the purchase price of $700 ($100 per device, which will be used at the county's four middle schools and three high schools), she argued that the thermometers would be a bargain to keep students safe.
Superintendent David Hickey had asked the board to delay the purchase, citing liability concerns raised by School Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick and the district's insurance carrier.
Ed Murphy, who oversees risk management programs for the district, said Tuesday that the district's insurance provider simply wanted to research the thermometers and "from the insurance standpoint, there is a green light. "
Officials assured the board that the district's coaches are well-informed about heat-related illnesses and have received regular training on the issue. "There's a very high level of awareness out there," said Ed Staten, who oversees the district's athletic programs.
Staten explained that the district will now require all coaches, volunteer and employees, to go through a three-hour training session which will focus on student safety during the hot and humid times
While the Florida High School Activities Association told local officials they do not take a stand on the use of wet bulb thermometers Staten noted that their literature recommends the use of some device to measure humidity. And national high school activities associations directly recommend wet bulb thermometers.
"So, yes, I am recommending that we do purchase," Staten said.
He recommended and the board approved purchasing 10 of the devices, two for each high school and one for each middle school.
The idea still raised questions from Fitzpatrick, who warned that, under the few guidelines available, "mark August off for Florida" for practices and activities.
Fitzpatrick said the problem is that the information provided by the thermometers doesn't definitely tell coaches whether a certain temperature means no practice should happen or whether certain activities should be curtailed.
Staten said it would be hard to find research that specific.
"I'm wiling to leave it to the common sense of our coaches at that point," Snyder said. But she the coaches need to use the guidelines that are available to base their judgment.