As temps rise, metro Atlanta schools monitor sports workouts

The family of Imani Bell filed a lawsuit against Clayton County Schools in February. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The family of Imani Bell filed a lawsuit against Clayton County Schools in February. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Two years after a Clayton County student died during outdoor drills in 90 degree heat, metro Atlanta school systems say they will strictly follow state guidelines on activities when temperatures become extreme.

The Georgia High School Association mandates in its handbook that games be held early in the day or during late evenings to avoid “times when environment conditions are generally more severe.” Districts also are to make sure students are properly hydrated and offer an unlimited supply of cold water during practices and games.

“Cobb schools follow GHSA policy to keep our students safe and healthy,” a Cobb Schools spokesperson said in an email. “For example, our teams use a scientifically-approved instrument to measure the temperature and determine the necessary rest breaks and cooling stations needed and the best time to schedule practices.”

The emphasis on safety comes as the heat in Atlanta reaches in the high 90s in the next three years. It also comes almost two years after the August 13, 2019 death of Imani Bell, a student at Clayton County’s Elite Scholars Academy. Imani collapsed after climbing stairs during a workout with teammates on the school’s basketball squad.

Imani’s family filed a lawsuit against the district in February, alleging the school was negligent in allowing the 16-year-old to continue practice as the heat index rose and despite Bell signaling she was in distress from the sizzling temperatures.

They are suing for wrongful death, pre-death pain and suffering and for funeral and burial expenses.

A spokesman for Clayton County Schools declined a request for comment.

Officials with the DeKalb County School District said schools are following the heat and safety guidelines required by the GHSA and that all head coaches in football, cross country and softball have been trained on the policy.

Gwinnett Schools spokesman Bernard Watson said the district uses the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature at each practice and those readings are used to determine activity and rest breaks.

“Our procedure calls for each head coach to designate a person to monitor and record the WBGT levels,” Watson said. “Approximately thirty minutes prior to the start of activity, the temperature and WBGT readings are taken at the practice or competition site.”

Fulton and Atlanta Public Schools leaders also said they are following the state group’s guidance, with an APS spokesman adding, “Our coaches are following the strict protocols for heat that we’ve always had.”

Justin Miller, an attorney for the Bell family, said he hopes the districts will keep their word. The guidance was available before Imani’s death, but he believes it was ignored.

“The school districts, the teachers, the athletic directors, the coaches, they have procedures in place to keep things like this from happening, they just don’t follow them,” Miller said. “So I would just No. 1 like to them to follow their own procedures. If they did that we wouldn’t be right here right now.”

Staff writers Vanessa McCray, Alia Malik and Kristal Dixon contributed to this report.

ORIGINAL DOCUMENT: Read Fulton County Schools’ Athlete-Parent Handbook

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