Imagine having a heart attack when you’re out in public amid a group of strangers and everyone runs away.

Now you have some idea why Arizona is requiring mandatory cardiopulmonary resuscitation training as a high school graduation requirement for all public and charter schools by 2019-20.

Several East Valley school districts are already laying the groundwork for the training. Mesa plans to start next school year and Chandler Unified anticipates starting it a year ahead of the deadline.

“Looks like a good fit for the mandatory health class,” said Chandler spokesman Terry Locke.

In Mesa, the state’s largest school system, spokeswoman Helen Hollands said hands-only CPR will become mandatory next school year and will be taught in all physical education classes.

“All students must have one PE credit (two semesters) to graduate,” Hollands said.

Both Gilbert school systems are still working on a plan.

“We have not set this up at this time for our students, but are working to meet the state requirement for 2019,” said Michelle Reese, spokeswoman for the Higley Unified School District.

“We are not taking any steps at this time toward CPR training until the legislation is signed and confirmed to move forward,” said Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. “We have had internal conversations about what this will require for implementation.”

The Tempe Union High School District governing board recently approve a policy that will guide the CPR program’s development over the next two years.

Tempe Union Superintendent Kenneth Baca told the board the district still has a long way to go.

“Where it’s going to be taught, how will we keep track of students who had training in middle school, how we’re going to ensure it’s going to be done properly—those are things we still have to work out,” Baca said.

The law is aimed at making bystanders rescuers.

It states that by July 1, 2019, charters and districts must “provide public school pupils with one or more training sessions in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, through the use of psychomotor skills in an age-appropriate manner, during high school.”

The law made Arizona the 32nd state in the union to mandate CPR training for high school students. That means that by the time it takes effect, 61 percent of all high school students in the country will be exposed annually to such training, according to the Sudden Cardia Arrest Foundation.

The foundation is aiming for 100 percent.

“We believe this widespread implementation of CPR training has many benefits to high school students and the broader U.S. public,” the foundation stated.

“High school students are well-positioned to improve rates of bystander CPR initiation in the United States, and their engagement could reduce deep disparities in regional rates of survival of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest through early initiation of bystander CPR,” it said.

In other words, the foundation believes that people who are trained in CPR won’t hesitate to administer the life-saving technique.

The foundation wants all the states to mandate CPR training in more than 37,000 high schools.

It noted that a common assumption is that “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is the major barrier to bystanders performing CPR.”

But a far more common reason, it said, is “panic and discomfort of the bystander.”

“Although not proven, it is likely that bystanders trained in CPR are more likely to act and act competently, for example, with the appropriate depth of chest compressions and with less hesitation,” it said.

Advocates of mandatory CPR training of high school students emphasize that students are more likely to encounter out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims in shopping malls or among family members at home than among their peers.

“Thus, learning CPR is mostly a selfless act both for the individual high school student and for high school students as a group,” the foundation said, stating that aspect may actually reduce resistance to receiving training.

A person who has a heart attack outside a hospital has a 95 percent chance of getting help if he or she is in the presence of someone trained in CPR.

“I think this is a good idea,” Tempe Union board member Michelle Helm said of the new state law.

Baca noted that the law does not provide any funding for schools to implement the training and that the state has yet to set out a reporting system.

“It’s one of those mandates we’re going to figure out as the years pass by,” he told the board.

The Tempe Union policy notes that part of the CPR training might involve homework and that it “shall be based on the most current national evidence-based emergency cardiovascular care guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation.”

The instruction must be administered by a certified trainer if students would receive a certificate upon successful completion of the class.

“The instruction provided must include the hands-on practicing of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, except for students who are enrolled in an online school,” the policy states.

Instruction could come from a wide range of people, including paramedics, police officers, representatives of the Red Cross or American Heart Association or others.

Students will be able to get excused from the requirement if a parent objects, if they have disabilities that make it impossible for them to administer CPR or if they’ve already been trained.

The foundation said another reason for mandating CPR training for high school students is the disparity in heart attack survival rates between wealthier communities and poor ones.

“It is precisely in large, inner-city neighborhoods and poorer U.S. counties where the impact of cardiac disease is disproportionately felt and in these same populations where CPR should be prioritized,” the foundation said.

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