There’s a growing movement for students in Pennsylvania’s secondary schools to learn more than the three Rs by adding three more letters to their curriculum: CPR. An increasing number of states are recognizing cardiopulmonary resuscitation as an extremely valuable skill and have passed laws requiring high school students to take it as a class. This year, Pennsylvania could become the 38th state in the nation to pass such a law.

In the Pennsylvania Legislature, Senate Bill 521 (the CPR in Schools Legislation) is in committee and may soon go before the full Senate for a third and final vote. A similar bill was also introduced in the PA House of Representatives last year. Pennsylvania is now one of only a handful of states that does not require or recommend CPR training for students. West Virginia enacted the requirement in 2015 and Ohio’s law took effect this school year. In fact, every state that borders Pennsylvania now has a CPR education requirement.

Why the push to teach students CPR?

“I believe this bill will go a long way in helping to prepare individuals to save lives through CPR and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) ultimately helping to reduce the number of deaths that occur from cardiac arrests this year,” explains PA Senator Tom Killion (R-9th), who sponsored the bill. “I introduced legislation that would add a hands-only, 30-minute cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) instruction to the state curriculum for high school students at the request of one of my constituents,” says the Senator, who represents Chester and Delaware counties.

That constituent is a volunteer for the American Heart Association and the mother of a young man who recently suffered a heart attack and whose life was saved by CPR. Killion adds, “It is my hope that we may send Senate Bill 521 to the House of Representatives in the near future.”

The bill has support from the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the American Heart Association. “The legislation allows schools to implement CPR training in a way that best fits within the school’s curriculum and it can be done at no cost by using available online resources or by partnering with local community groups that can provide the training for free,” says David Greineder, Pennsylvania Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. “Thirty-seven other states passed legislation, including all our surrounding states, so we believe there is absolutely no reason the Legislature cannot, and should not, immediately consider this bill.”

How effective is CPR? According to the American Heart Association, performing CPR in the first few minutes of someone who is suffering a cardiac arrest can double or triple a patient’s chance of survival. Cardiac arrest is an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes irregular heartbeat and disrupts the flow of blood to organs and it is a leading cause of death. Each year, more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of hospitals in the United States and almost 90 percent of those patients die. Survival depends on immediately getting CPR.

Educators and parents are weighing in on the proposal with some favoring it and others seeing a CPR requirement as an added burden on students’ schedules. Blair Carpenter, a father and grandfather who grew up and lives in Washington, endorses the movement. “I think it’s a great idea,” he says. “I can remember doing CPR in school at (Washington Park Elementary School) in Ms. Bennett’s class and I feel that everyone should know how to give it.”

Carpenter’s father had a heart attack at age 32 but recovered. “As a son growing up with a father having heart issues, I am glad I knew how to give CPR, but have never had to use it.”

Several local school districts already offer optional CPR courses. Ringgold High School currently offers a First Aid and CPR course to students in grades 10-12 as a one quarter elective. Central Greene School District already incorporates CPR instruction into its health class curriculum.

“Central Greene does not require CPR certification at this time for students, however, they do have CPR instruction at the both the middle and high school levels,” offers Superintendent Dr. Helen K. McCracken. “It is my understanding that only one in four cardiac arrest victims receives CPR. Not surprisingly, many of them die. Educating our youth in this area makes good, healthy sense. We do have several of our teachers that are Certified CPR Trainers. I believe it is a benefit to everyone to receive CPR training, especially students.”

As for teachers and staff learning CPR, neither Pennsylvania nor Ohio require CPR training for educators. West Virginia, Maryland and New York are among the many states with laws mandating CPR training for teachers. In the Canon-McMillan School District, students are not required to take CPR, but staff members can get training. “Canon-McMillan provides CPR training to staff upon request by building administrators,” C-M Superintendent of Schools Michael Daniels says. “We actually employ two nurses who are certified to provide the training in house. This is not a requirement for the student population.”


Kristin Emery is a meteorologist at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, an O-R columnist, and writer for Total Health magazine and other publications. Kristin is a Washington native and a graduate of Washington High School and West Virginia University.

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