The following is a Letter to the Editor from Arlington resident Stephen Harrington.
Last fall, children on the football team suffered 15 suspected concussions. Most were confirmed by their pediatrician and, at almost 25 percent of all football players, it was arguably the highest rate of concussions in the state.
More than one-third of the football helmets used were more than 10 years old, which does not meet the minimum standard of safety for football helmets, and two-thirds of the helmets were more than five years old, exceeding the manufacturer's warranty. Multiple requests for information from the school department including the high school principal, athletic director and superintendent were met with silence. Requests to present a replacement plan to the Capital Planning Committee were rebuffed.
A warrant article, supported by 160 concerned residents, asked for an appropriation to address this public health issue. The chair of the School Committee wanted to vote something stronger than "no action" to send some kind of message. The Board of Selectmen never discussed this public safety issue.
Members of the Finance Committee were swayed by promises of school funding for new equipment that merely met the minimum standard of safety (replacing helmets more than 10 years old) even in the face of a 13 percent, two year decline in budgeted funding for high school athletics, a 2 percent decline in the football budget and a $35,000 decrease by the Board of Selectmen in federal funds available for low income scholarships for high school athletics. With parents paying $500 for football, the highest fee for public school football in Massachusetts, the amount of money contributed by the school department is minimal if not zero.
A substitute motion for $20,000 to accelerate the replacement of all football helmets out of warranty and $5,000 for an innovative impact data study was proposed. Town Meeting members and elected officials were eager to terminate debate before answers to their specious arguments could be provided. Instead of funding $20,000 for safety equipment in our public schools, Town Meeting had decided immediately before to appropriate $20,000 to *design* signs for directions to private property.
There is something seriously amiss with the political leadership in Arlington when they decide $20,000 for the design of signs for private non-profits is more deserving than the safety and well-being of our students, requests for public information are ignored and elected officials refuse to discuss steps they must take to reduce concussions in public school sports.