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Top 10 Safety and Legal Issues in High School Athletics

Clay Burnett

As an athletic director, you’re tasked with doing everything you can to ensure an optimal athletics experience for all students, parents, coaches, and members of the community. To do that, you need to keep safety and legal issues in high school athletics top of mind. Mitigating risk, ensuring compliance, and preventing negligence are all important pieces of AD job descriptions today. This is in large part because districts across the country face increasing regulations and we live in an increasingly litigious society.

In addition to ensuring optimal athletic experiences, athletic directors need to ensure that coaches are compliant. After all, with any sports issue, athletic directors set the tone for their district. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top 10 safety and legal issues in high school athletics today. By studying each issue, preparing for them, and using online forms to inform your coaches, parents, and students of your policies, you can protect your district from potential issues, while creating an environment that supports athletics.

1. Liabilities for Injuries

When students get injured during games, events, or other competitions, it’s not uncommon for the district to be at risk for damages. Although coaches and athletic directors can’t prevent injuries from occurring, they can take proactive steps to reduce the likelihood that they happen—or at least keep them from being exacerbated.

By developing district-wide policies for athletic injuries, evaluations, notifications, and treatments, you can create a safer athletic environment.

2. Concussion Management

In recent years, concussions have taken center stage in the world of athletics, largely due to studies finding connections between playing football and developing CTE, a brain injury that occurs after repeated head trauma. To keep student-athletes safe, your district needs to create a concussion management policy that outlines what should be done if one of them gets injured this way and what needs to happen before they return to play.

3. Social Media Issues

Now more than ever, teens spend ample time on social media. According to Pew Research, 95 percent of teens have a smartphone, and 45 percent of them are online practically all day long.

Districts need to create social media policies that outline what type of content students and staff should not share online—and what the repercussions are for violating the policies. The specific detials of the policy and its enforcement may differ from district to district, but the creation of a policy helps keep students and staff.

 

4. Hazing

According to the University of Dayton, 1.5 million high school students are hazed every year. Not only is hazing humiliating and demoralizing, but it can also be incredibly dangerous.

To combat this awful practice, more and more districts are adopting zero-tolerance hazing policies. If members of the team are caught hazing junior athletes, they may be suspended or ineligible to participate in the athletic program altogether.

5. Sexual Harassment

Successful athletics programs make student-athletes feel safe. Athletic directors and coaches must do everything they can to ensure safety is the reality—this includes adopting anti-sexual harassment policies.

Courts are increasingly finding administrators and other officials responsible in cases where they’re aware that sexual harassment is occurring but do nothing about it. It’s critical for your district to create a robust policy.

6. Transgender Athlete Policies

Districts also need to create policies that protect the rights of transgender athletes. This is a relatively new area of law, and many states and districts have different policies. No matter where your district stands, it’s important to outline a policy in this area to make sure everyone is on the same page.

7. Disabilities

Laws require that disabled students have opportunities to participate in sports. Your district needs to put together a comprehensive policy that outlines what those opportunities look like and what programs and resources are available to students with disabilities.

8. Title IX

Title IX ensures that student-athletes can’t be discriminated against on the basis of sex. In other words, there need to be equal athletic opportunities for boys and girls.

Since Title IX has been the law of the land for nearly 50 years, odds are your district is already excelling in this area. Still, it’s important to create a policy around Title IX to ensure that all stakeholders in the district understand what’s expected of them.

9. Emergency Contacts, Procedures, and Protocols

Your district needs to know what the next steps are if a coach, student, or spectator gets injured at a sporting event. Having easy access to emergency contact forms can be particularly helpful here.

You also need to prepare for contingencies—like what happens if someone with an allergy accidentally eats a peanut in the stands. The more detailed your procedures and protocols are, the easier it will be to respond to emergency situations.

10. Having Proper Documentation to Satisfy District, State, and Federal Regulations

Regulations change on a regular basis. No matter where your district is in the country, chances are that you deal with shifting requirements as new regulations come through at the district, state, and federal levels.

The easiest way to avoid running afoul of these regulations is to use a system, like FinalForms, that creates a digital paper trail and can quickly adapt to new requirements.

Prepare Your District for Safety and Legal Issues in High School Athletics

Athletic directors need to be mindful of these trends and concerns, and do everything they can to avoid situations that could put the district between a rock and a hard place. Doing so enables you to create a safe sporting environment while protecting taxpayer and staff interests.

One easy way to reduce your exposure to these risks is by using a system like FinalForms that enables you to achieve 100 percent form compliance. For more information on what you can do to protect your district against safety and legal issues in high school athletics, check out our new e-book, 20 Must-Have Online Forms for K-12 Athletics.

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