WESTFIELD, NJ – When Janet’s Law goes into effect on Sept. 1, all public K-12 schools in New Jersey must be equipped with an automated external defibrillator, or AED, and have in place plans relating to sudden cardiac events.
While some districts scramble to comply with the new law, Westfield schools are ahead of the curve.
“We started implementing an AED policy in 2003,” said Margaret Teitelbaum, the district’s coordinator of nurses as well as the school nurse at Westfield High School. “We started at the high school because we were concerned about sports and phys ed classes.”
At the time, the parents of a child with a heart condition also lobbied for an AED. By 2009, each public school in town had at least one AED.
“In most of the schools, they are very accessible to the gyms and the health office,” Teitelbaum said.
District-wide, there is now a total of 17 AEDs, including one in the Board of Education building and a travel AED. Starting in January, the machines were checked and updated.
None of the district’s AEDs has been used in an emergency.
Passed by the state legislature in 2012, Janet’s Law is named in memory of 11-year-old Janet Zilinski, who died in 2006 of sudden cardiac arrest following cheerleading practice.
The law also stipulates that the location of a school's AED must be clearly marked and that the device must be stored in an unlocked location that is accessible during the school day and during after school sports practices or events.
In addition, at least five faculty or staff members at each school are required to be trained in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and the use of a defibrillator.
Sandra Mamary, director of athletics at the high school, first saw an AED at a conference that she attended back in 2000 while working as a trainer. She knew immediately the high school should own one.
Mamary wrote a grant and was able to purchase the district's first AED with the help of the Education Fund of Westfield.
“We definitely recognized the need. The bottom line is you can never put a price tag on saving someone’s life,” Mamary said.
Mamary emphasized the importance of portable AEDs for coaches whose athletes practice or play in remote areas. Last spring, the school’s golf coach took an AED onto the course with the team, and this fall, the cross country coach will have a portable device as well.
This summer, Mamary bought six new machines for the athletics department and passed her four original machines on to Teitelbaum. An AED typically costs around $1,200.
She believes this type of foresight is not unusual in Westfield.
“That’s very typical of our school district,” said Mamary. “No one really drives us to do that. It’s just the expectation of the district.”