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Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.

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“Gwyneth’s Law” CPR bill passes through House committee

A bill to train more teachers and students in CPR passed easily out of a House committee Wednesday after an emotional appeal by the mother of a Stafford student who died from lack of CPR.

The bill, from Del. Mark Dudenhefer, requires high school students to be trained in CPR, and requires teachers to undergo CPR training — but not necessarily certification — as part of their regular licensure recertification.

Dudenhefer has changed the bill somewhat to accomodate concerns — now CPR won’t be a graduation requirement until the 2015-16 graduating class, and it allows but doesn’t require schools to buy defibrillators.

The idea behind the bill is to increase the number of people in schools who know and can perform CPR if needed.

Dudenhefer’s bill — and an identical one from Sen. Richard Stuart — came about after the death last summer of 12-year-old Gwyneth Griffin. Born with a heart defect, she went into cardiac arrest at A.G. Wright Middle School in Stafford. She got no CPR or first aid until rescue crews arrived nearly 10 minutes later.

Her mother, Jennifer Griffin, told the House Education Committee Wednesday morning that Gywneth’s teacher knew CPR. But she “could not bring herself to act” because she was so close to Gwyneth, Griffin said.

Gwyneth died not from the cardiac arrest, Griffin said, but from the lack of oxygen to her brain while she waited for help.

Griffin told the committee that she herself is a teacher, and is trained in CPR, use of a defibrillator, and use of an epi-pen.

Such knowledge, she said, has been overlooked in teacher training requirements until now.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask … to, in a time of need, have the knowledge necessary to save a life,” Griffin said. “You are the adults and I’m asking you to make a choice that would help ensure the safety and security (of children).”

Some lawmakers questioned the cost of new training requirements in Dudenhefer’s bill, particularly a provision encouraging all schools to have a defibrillator on hand.

Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, said he had problems with the bill making CPR training a requirement for students’ graduation.

“That’s a big departure from what we’ve had in the past,” Landes said.

Virginia Education Association president Meg Gruber said she was concerned the bill could put the cost of CPR training onto teachers. She was also worried about the implications for teachers who might get the training but, like Gywneth’s teacher, find themselves unable to act.

“What kind of penalties would come down on the staff … for somebody to look at you and say, ‘ you were trained, you should have (helped),” Gruber said.

But other lawmakers said the bill was long overdue.

“I think this is an excellent idea,” said Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania. It would, he said, “improve the level of safety and response not just in our schools but in society in general.”

The committee voted 15-1 to pass the bill — Landes was the one vote against it. It will now go the full House. Stuart’s version is also moving through the legislative process on the Senate side.

Jennifer and Joel Griffin have been lobbying lawmakers on the bill, and spoken at committee and subcommittee hearings.

Joel Griffin said Wednesday that lawmakers “have been very receptive to our message.”

The full House will vote on Dudenhefer’s bill in the next few days.

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