Watching out for the health and safety of student athletes

Whether it’s hitting a home run, crossing the finish line or simply being part of a team, extracurricular athletics are influential to the educational experience of many students. Students in these programs experience enhanced school engagement by being part of an athletic program.

Research shows that higher grades, graduation rates and scores on state assessments, as well as lower dropout rates, are seen among student athletes in comparison to non-athletes. To actualize these positive attributes, and, most importantly, to properly care for participants, governance teams should review district policies and protocols related to the health and safety of student athletes.

Stories of student athletes who suffer major injuries and even death caused by avoidable circumstances are heartbreaking, and districts should strive to prevent such occurrences. Coaches must meet minimum qualifications to ensure they possess an appropriate level of competence, knowledge and skill. They must be trained to recognize, prevent and appropriately respond to symptoms related to concussions, head injuries and sudden cardiac arrest syndrome; to remove the student from play if injury and/or symptoms occur; and to not allow the student to return to play until the student is evaluated and given written clearance by a health care provider. Additionally, coaches must be trained in the signs, symptoms and appropriate response to heat illness, such as dehydration and heat exhaustion, and to follow practices that assist in the prevention of heat illness. Preventative measures include gradually increasing the intensity and duration of exercise to acclimate student athletes to heat, providing adequate rest breaks, making water available during all athletic activities and altering practice plans in extreme environmental conditions.

Although prevention is critical, districts should be prepared and have a plan for emergency situations. Pursuant to Assembly Bill 2009 (2018), districts that offer interscholastic athletic programs are required to make automated external defibrillators available to coaches, athletic trainers and/or other authorized persons at athletic activities or events for the purpose of providing emergency care or treatment. Districts should also establish protocols for contacting emergency responders and parents/guardians and for having adequately trained staff who can tend to the student until help arrives.

California state law requires several notices to be annually distributed to and signed by student athletes and their parents/guardians before the student participates in interscholastic athletics. With conditioning and training for fall sports underway, districts are reminded to distribute information regarding concussions, head injuries, sudden cardiac arrest syndrome and, as newly required by Senate Bill 1109 (2018), an opioid fact sheet produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Student athletes must also sign a pledge to not use androgenic/anabolic steroids, banned dietary supplements or the substance synephrine.

“The Code of Ethical Conduct that coaches must follow pursuant to 5 CCR 5596 includes establishing the safety and welfare of players as the highest priority,” said Barbara Laifman, CSBA policy manual consultant. “It seems incumbent upon governance teams to serve as role models for this prioritization and to incorporate safety fully in the structure and implementation of district athletic programs.”

One way for governance teams to lead by example and create a foundation for implementation is to adopt policies that demonstrate the importance of student safety in athletics. Districts are encouraged to review CSBA’s sample board policy and administrative regulation BP/AR 6145.2 – Athletic Competition, which lists practices for the prevention of heat illness, provides AED requirements and in July was updated to include the new opioid notification requirement. To ensure consistency, districts may also want to review BP/AR 4127/4227/4327 – Temporary Athletic Team Coaches, and BP/AR 5131.63 – Steroids.

Further resources:

Districts are also encouraged to review the resources available through the following agencies and organizations:








  • National Federation of State High School Associations:




  • National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment: