By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The Quincy School Board is on the cusp of adopting a policy that will help protect students while practicing sports or music in high-heat situations.
The proposed "heat related illness prevention" policy was unveiled at the board's May 23 meeting and was placed on the table for a month. It is expected to be adopted at the board's June 20 meeting.
The policy spells out safety guidelines coaches and band directors will have to follow once the heat index reaches certain levels or if students exhibit any signs of heat-related illness.
For example, the policy says no practice or activity will be allowed once the heat index reaches 105 degrees or higher. This will apply to all athletics and other physical activities, including PE classes, marching band and indoor sports when air conditioning is not available.
Other steps will have to be followed when the heat index enters the 95-to-105 range. For instance, practices will have to provide water breaks every 20 minutes; students will have to be given five minutes of "total rest" each hour (with helmets off if they play football); practices must not exceed two hours; and free access to water must be provided at all times.
In addition, the policy points out a series of preventative steps students should take to prevent heat-related illness if they know they will be practicing in hot conditions. These tips include acclimating themselves to the heat by exercising outdoors four to five days a week before intense practice sessions start; drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercises; and using a "buddy system" so pairs of athletes can monitor one another to watch for any worrisome signs of heat stress.
Under the proposed policy, coaches will be required to make themselves familiar with risk factors and warning signs associated with heat-related illness. They also will have to check the temperature and heat index prior to the start of practice and monitor the heat situation as practice continues.
Coaches will also be required to make parents and athletes aware of the heat-related policy and heat illness warning signs at a pre-season meeting.
Tom Dickerson, chairman of the School Board's Policy Committee, said board members felt a heat-related policy should be developed to help keep students safe in potentially dangerous high-heat situations.
"I think mostly why this came about is across the nation there's been several instances of sports-related injuries and death due to heat exhaustion," Dickerson said.
Among those pushing for the development of the policy was School Board member Dr. Steven Krause, a Quincy cardiologist. Krause told fellow board members this spring that students are at the highest risk for heat stroke when they are involved in lengthy, arduous practice sessions while the heat index is rising to dangerous levels.
Krause did some research and found some heat-related policies used in other states. Dickerson said those policies served as a starting point to help the Quincy School District develop its own policy.
Dickerson said developing the policy was a challenge because the committee couldn't find any other Illinois schools with a similar policy in place to serve as a model.
"We looked to the IHSA (Illinois High School Association) to see what they had, and it didn't appear they had anything," Dickerson said. "So we pretty much drafted it from scratch."
Dickerson said the purpose in having a heat policy is to provide "a clear, concise message" on what guidelines should be followed in high-heat situations.
"We're going to make sure everybody is aware of them before they start their practices," he said.
"Our goal is to have a policy that everybody can consistently understand and follow so in case there is extraordinary weather, at least parents and students and our faculty understand we've got limits."
Dickerson said the policy will go into effect immediately after it is adopted and will be adhered to at the start of the fall sports season. "Our goal is to put it in place as quickly as possible," he said.