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After a child's death, California weighs rules for phys ed during extreme weather

Samantha Young, KFF Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. — Yahushua Robinson was an energetic boy who jumped and danced his way through life. Then, a physical education teacher instructed the 12-year-old to run outside on a day when the temperature climbed to 107 degrees.

“We lose loved ones all the time, but he was taken in a horrific way,” his mother, Janee Robinson, said from the family’s Inland Empire home, about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles. “I would never want nobody to go through what I’m going through.”

The day her son died, Robinson, who teaches phys ed, kept her elementary school students inside, and she had hoped her children’s teachers would do the same.

The Riverside County Coroner’s Bureau ruled that Yahushua died on Aug. 29 of a heart defect, with heat and physical exertion as contributing factors. His death at Canyon Lake Middle School came on the second day of an excessive heat warning, when people were advised to avoid strenuous activities and limit their time outdoors.

Yahushua’s family is supporting a bill in California that would require the state Department of Education to create guidelines that govern physical activity at public schools during extreme weather, including setting threshold temperatures for when it’s too hot or too cold for students to exercise or play sports outside. If the measure becomes law, the guidelines will have to be in place by Jan. 1, 2026.

Many states have adopted protocols to protect student athletes from extreme heat during practices. But the California bill is broader and would require educators to consider all students throughout the school day and in any extreme weather, whether they’re doing jumping jacks in fourth period or playing tag during recess. It’s unclear if the bill will clear a critical committee vote scheduled for May 16.

 

“Yahushua’s story, it’s very touching. It’s very moving. I think it could have been prevented had we had the right safeguards in place,” said state Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Bakersfield), one of the bill’s authors. “Climate change is impacting everyone, but it’s especially impacting vulnerable communities, especially our children.”

Last year marked the planet’s warmest on record, and extreme weather is becoming more frequent and severe, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Even though most heat deaths and illnesses are preventable, about 1,220 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Young children are especially susceptible to heat illness because their bodies have more trouble regulating temperature, and they rely on adults to protect them from overheating. A person can go from feeling dizzy or experiencing a headache to passing out, having a seizure, or going into a coma, said Chad Vercio, a physician and the division chief of general pediatrics at Loma Linda University Health.

“It can be a really dangerous thing,” Vercio said of heat illness. “It is something that we should take seriously and figure out what we can do to avoid that.”

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©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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