East Texas heatwave causing school officials to add precautions for P.E. classes

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – Recess this school year could be a whole new experience for students returning to class next week amid 100-plus temperatures.

School officials are implementing new strategies in an effort to protect students from the heat.  "We've always had some hot days, but this is the first time that I can remember the heat being this intense for such a long period of time and that concerns us," said Roy Knight, Superintendent, Lufkin Independent School District.  "Of course, we have A-C and several years ago voters generously approved a plan that allowed us to construct gymnasiums on all of our elementary school campuses."

While those things will help, Knight said students will still be allowed to go outside for P.E.  "We have 300-400 students on each elementary campus, there's no way to get all of those children in the gym daily, so they will still have their regular P.E. class outside, however, that time will be limited to about 20 minutes at a time."

There is also encouraging news from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).   The most notable change in AAP policy is the recognition that children can tolerate and adapt to exercise in heat as well as similarly fit adults, when adequate hydration is maintained. The previous AAP policy, issued in 2000, suggested that children were less able to tolerate and adapt to heat stress compared to adults, but more recent research has found children and adults have similar physiological responses when exercising under the same conditions.

"We're definitely anxious about the heat and its affect on our children and we're taking precautions to address any potential problems beforehand.  We're making sure there is plenty of adult supervision when the kids are outside and directly exposed to the heat," said Knight.  "We also have a team of nurses all around the district, which are part of our emergency action plan, and just a heightened awareness of the possible dangers of the heat."

Students are provided breakfast in the mornings and parents are encouraged to make sure your child is getting enough food, water and rest at home before they come to school.

"Most healthy children and athletes can safely participate in outdoor sports and activities in a wide range of warm to hot weather, but adults sometimes create situations that are potentially dangerous," said Stephen G. Rice, MD, FAAP, co-author of the policy statement and a former member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. "Heat illness is entirely preventable if coaches and other adults take some precautions to protect the young athletes."

Among the recommendations:

  • Providing risk-reduction training for coaches, trainers and other adults.
  • Ensuring trained staff are available on-site to monitor for and promptly treat heat illness.
  • Educating children about preparing for the heat to improve safety and reduce the risk for heat illness.
  • Allowing children to gradually adapt to physical activity in the heat.
  • Offering time for and encouraging sufficient fluid intake before, during and after exercise.
  • Modifying activity as needed given the heat and limitations of individual athletes. Practices and games may need to be canceled or rescheduled to cooler times.
  • Providing rest periods of at least 2 hours between same-day contests in warm to hot weather.
  • Limiting participation of children who have had a recent illness or have other risk factors that would reduce exercise-heat tolerance.
  • Developing and having in place an emergency action plan.

"Our kids are pretty resilient.  I'm optimistic that they will handle the heat pretty well as long as we keep an eye on them and make sure they're not over-exerting themselves.  Frankly, I'm a little more concerned about the adults," said Knight.

Teachers reported back to school this week.  Classes for students are scheduled to begin August 22.

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