This week the Norwalk Hour and the Connecticut Post published a ‘Connecticut Insider’ look at the problem of uncertified coaches for school sports teams. The Insider’s investigation had been spurred by a case Attorney Smith brought against the Weston Board of Education. His clients’ son had been injured while an uncertified coach supervised his freshmen basketball team.
Connecticut law requires new coaches with no training to get an ‘emergency’ permit good for one year. Each would-be coach must pass a course on first aid, CPR and concussions. School boards have their own policies, which mirror the state’s regulation. They keep a new hire from starting work without such certification, and generally put their Athletic Director in charge of seeing to it.
The Insider’s article found a widespread problem. Between 2018 and 2020 more than one hundred coaches in schools in the Fairfield and New Haven counties worked without a valid, current permit. Westport and Guilford, two of the wealthier such schools, each had eighteen uncertified coaches.
The root of the problem seems to lie in the lack of communication between the state and the school. The Department of Education does not tell a district about the status of their coach’s application. A coach might fail to apply correctly. They might let their permit lapse. Unless they ask the state, the Athletic Director will never know. As the Insider put it, “[w]ith little to no oversight from the state, it falls to local schools to keep track of their coaches’ permits with methods that can differ greatly by district.”
In KJ v. Weston the district never checked to see if the state had granted the coach his permit. As a result, he was in charge of practice the day of KJ’s injury in December of 2018. A teammate punched him in the face. His parents filed suit eight months later. He is still going to the dentist.
In its investigation the Insider spoke to a dozen athletic directors. Most put the responsibility for a valid permit on the coach. Nonetheless, many of them emphasized how they took the precaution to check each coach’s certification before the start of a season.
The Weston coach had applied for his permit. The athletic director let him work without knowing whether or not he had it. A little more effort on his part would have saved KJ and his family a lot of pain.