Nova Scotia

N.S. panel looking at ways to prevent injuries in school sports

In the wake of high school rugby being abruptly cancelled and then reinstated due to safety concerns, Nova Scotia's minister of education has tasked a 17-person panel with providing advice on safety in Nova Scotia school sports.

17 people have met twice so far and will convene twice more before reporting back by Aug. 31

A panel including people from government, and provincial and national sport organizations is looking at safety in school sports. (Jack Hanratty)

Nova Scotia's education minister has tasked a panel of sports administrators, experts and athletes with examining safety in school sports after high school rugby was abruptly cancelled in the province earlier this year due to safety concerns, before being reinstated.

The 17-person panel will look at ways to promote safety and prevent injuries, including concussions, according to a news release Monday from the Department of Education. It said that will involve looking at legislation, policies and practices related to coaching, training and safety protocols.

Education Minister Zach Churchill said rugby will be going ahead in the coming school year, regardless of the panel's findings.

"I'm excited for those [rugby] players because I know they were worried this year when the decision was made to cancel rugby, but they made a really strong case for their sport and we're just going to help ensure that we're operating at the highest safety standards in rugby and all contact sport in Nova Scotia," he said.

The minister said the group won't be considering banning any sport, but rather will be looking at ways to improve access to sport and how to encourage more young people to be healthy, active and engaged in competitive sport.

Aug. 31 deadline

The panel has met twice so far and will convene two more times before reporting back by Aug. 31. The goal will be to ensure any recommended changes are in place when school starts and sports kick off.

Students, Dr. Tina Atkinson, who works with the Halifax Mooseheads and is an expert on concussions, as well as the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF) have made presentations to the panel, Churchill said. The group that insures school sports will also be addressing them.

Churchill says the goal is to ensure suggestions made by the panel are in place in September when school sports resume. (Jenna Smaggus photo)

The department and the NSSAF, the governing body overseeing school sports, committed to look into safety in May, the week after the federation abruptly stopped sanctioning rugby, briefly halting the high school sport's season.

Top doctors and some sports health professionals in the province swiftly questioned the sudden cancellation, and student athletes across the province protested. Churchill ordered the decision be reversed within a day.

The rugby season carried on, even though it was no longer sanctioned by NSSAF. The federation couldn't immediately be reached for comment about whether the sport will be sanctioned in the coming school year.

Churchill said he expected the panel's suggestions will help the federation make decisions about sports and safety rules.

Members of the panel include:

  • Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health.
  • Sue Taylor-Foley, executive director of education innovation, programs and services, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
  • Michelle Aucoin, director of provincial services, Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.
  • Jamie Ferguson, CEO of Sport Nova Scotia.
  • Karen Furneaux, athlete representative.
  • Dr. John Gillis, emergency physician.
  • Jennifer Heatley, project executive for health promotion, Department of Health and Wellness.
  • Paul Hunter, director of development, Rugby Canada.
  • Dave Jones, regional executive director of Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education.
  • Stephen MacNeil, chair of board of governors, Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation.
  • David Napier, president of Basketball Nova Scotia.
  • Gerry Post, executive director of Accessibility Directorate.
  • Jennifer Russell, executive director of Atlantic Collaborative on Injury Prevention.
  • Lori Sigfridson, Tri-County Regional Centre for Education and president of Physical and Health Education Canada.
  • Shaquille Smith, athlete representative.
  • Carolyn Townsend, director of communications and strategic relations, Sport Nova Scotia.
  • Amy Walsh, executive director of Hockey Nova Scotia.

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