PHOENIX – When Shellie Wenhold’s 9-year-old son Jonathan suffered cardiac arrest during gym class at his Georgia school, neither his teacher nor his classmates knew what to do in those critical first moments, she said.
Wenhold is convinced that if someone nearby had been trained on when and how to perform perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, rather than just calling for help, her son would be alive today.
“What I learned with Jonathan about the need for more people to know CPR was that if we wait for emergency medical services to arrive it’s just going to be too late,” she said. “No EMS response time is fast enough to get there before brain damage occurs.”
As the Arizona representative for Parent Heart Watch, Wenhold is sharing her story with state lawmakers as she advocates for legislation that would require students in junior high and high school to receive CPR training.
SB 1337, authored by Sen. Barbara McGuire, D-Kearny, has won endorsements from the Senate Appropriation Committee and Senate Education Committee.
The measure would require public schools and charter schools to have each student receive CPR training at least once between seventh and 12th grades.
McGuire said she learned while working in a school district’s transportation department that few students knew how to perform CPR.
“Their minds are more impressionable, especially during their middle school and high school years where their retention level is very well,” she said. “The best venue (for CPR training) would be in the school system.”
Under McGuire’s bill, which would take effect during the 2015-2016 school year, students could be excused from CPR instruction at the request of their parents or by providing documentation that they have received training or are certified.
McGuire said schools shouldn’t face any cost in meeting the requirement.
“There are numerous resources out there that they can tap into so that the schools don’t have to pay for this training,” she said. “I was talking with some of the fire department personnel and they were saying they would be more than happy to volunteer their services as well as their equipment to teach kids this in school.”
She added that schools would make decisions on the timing, location and frequency of training as well as how it fits into the curriculum.
Chris Kotterman, deputy director of policy development and government relations for the Arizona Department of Education, told the Senate Appropriations Committee that Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal opposes the bill as written.
“The superintendent obviously acknowledges the importance of CPR and people being trained, (but) just doesn’t support the requirement on schools districts,” he said. “To the extent that we can work out an amendment to address those concerns we’d be happy to change our position.”
Sabrina Vasquez, a lobbyist representing Arizona School Administrators, told the committee her organization has similar concerns.
“We appreciate the discussion and believe that the districts should have the option to dedicate resources and instructional time towards this type of training,” she said. “But we do believe it should be an option.”
Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, who voted against the bill in both committees, said imposing new mandates on schools would take away time that should be used to educate students.
“One of the important things that we do at the state Legislature is to appropriate funding to teach students how to read and write, and we are having trouble getting our student body where they need to be,” he said. “When we require time to be on different subjects then we detract from that big responsibility we have on educating kids.”
Nicole Olmstead, American Heart Association government relations director for Arizona, said schools could easily incorporate the training.
“We figured it out that this would take 0.01 percent of a student’s academic time at the school between grades seven through 12,” she said. “So just 30 minutes to figure out how to save somebody’s life.”
Wenhold said making schools devote time to CPR can save lives.
“If we do not ask our children to learn this skill and maintain this skill throughout their lifetime, we are not going to have bystanders willing to stand up and make a difference between life and death,” she said.