October 16, 1998 – by Jim Farrell
Journal Staff Writer Edmonton – School administrators should receive a new set of safety guidelines in January to help them avoid sports injuries like the one that resulted last week in a $4-million award to a young woman paralysed in a gymnastics accident.
Alberta Education, Alberta Health and Alberta Community Development, in partnership with a consortium of physical education and injury control organizations, are nearing completion on a document called Alberta Physical Education Safety Guidelines.
The document is meant to provide a consistent safety standard for physical education activities that can be applied by local school boards, said Margaret Schwartz, special projects co-ordinator for Schools Come Alive, one of the contributing organizations.
“We currently have safety guidelines in use across the province,” Schwartz said Thursday.
Those guidelines are too general, however, she said. They didn’t deal with the specific risks of 77 activities as diverse as archery and water polo.
“The new guidelines will incorporate much of what’s in the old ones but they’ll be specific to each activity.”
An Edmonton judge recently condemned a Westlock school for not ensuring the safety of gymnastic student Margaret MacCabe.
Seven years ago, MacCabe suffered a devastating spinal injury while attempting a back flip during a gymnastics class.
Schwartz said its authors didn’t start from scratch on the new guidelines, which will hopefully assist teachers in preventing injuries.
“Basically, we’re taking an Ontario document and revamping it and combining it with our own documents,” Schwartz said.
“Alberta Education’s legal committee will now take those guidelines and make sure they reflect everything necessary.”
The guidelines won’t constitute the last word on student safety, however. They’ll be added to by local school divisions.
“They will probably be the minimum acceptable standard in each school,” said Schwartz. “School boards will have to be more stringent.”
But even if school divisions were to achieve perfection in their own guidelines, that still won’t guarantee accident-free athletic activities, Schwartz said.
“Accidents will still occur in our schools, just as they do on our streets. You can put a speed limit on the roads but when people break those speed limits, what can you do?”
Following the MacCabe settlement, some people feared the size of the award would spell the end of gymnastics in school. Schwartz doesn’t think it will, or should.
“It would be sad for the children who like to twist and turn and hang and rotate and have all those wonderful experiences that gymnastics provide.
“That would be like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”
– Edmonton Journal