Taking Heed to Head Injuries

Claremont Tweaks Concussion Rules

Claremont — Gone are the days when an athlete was sent back into the game if he could correctly count the number of fingers held up in front of him.

“ ‘Ok, you look all right. Go back in.’ That is not acceptable any longer,” SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin said recently.

At last week’s School Board meeting, the board passed a new concussion management policy that applies a more comprehensive analysis after a head injury, whether it is on the playing field, during gym class or anywhere else on school grounds.

The policy meets the requirements of a new state law that took effect in August mandating that school districts have policies for management concussions and head injuries in student sports.

To that end, the Claremont policy has a strict “return to play” provision that requires approval from medical professionals and a signed form from parents, among other conditions.

“It is not as apparent when someone is ready to play again after a head injury like it is with a broken leg,” said McGoodwin. “Across the nation, everyone is acknowledging the long-term effects concussions can have.”

Stevens athletic director Aaron House said Claremont’s policy, which applies to all grade levels, is more stringent than the state law when it comes to allowing a student to resume playing.

House said students must follow the “seven steps” before returning to the field or court.

These include rest, followed by aerobics, sports-specific training, non-contact drills, full-contact controlled training, then full-contact practice and finally signed return-to-play forms. At the minimum, the steps can take five to seven days.

“We are going above and beyond what the state law says, “ House said yesterday.

“It is taking a very conservative approach with every student. They have to show us in stages they are ready to get back on the field.”

McGoodwin said the major difference with the new policy is that it alerts everyone who comes in contact with a student who has had a concussion, not just the coach, and involves those people in the recovery.

“I think the key piece is that it involves the faculty, coaches, medical staff and parents,” McGoodwin said.

The policy states that “communication between families, educational personnel, athletic staff, and health-care providers is crucial to facilitate a student’s healthy return to school and physical activity following a concussion.”

The policy’s stated goals include identifying staff in the school that will set up the support system for the student during recovery; establish system-wide procedures for staff to follow for all head-related injuries; and institute the stages of recovery and return to play procedure for all students.

House said the administration took steps this fall with athletes by requiring everyone in a semi-contact or full-contact sport to have what is called “baseline” testing done prior to participating. If a student suffers a head injury, he or she will be required to complete another test, which is compared to the baseline results.

That information can then be compared to the results of a test a student will take after a head injury.

“The impact assessment allows a professional to identify if a student is able to return (to playing,)” McGoodwin told the School Board earlier this month. “Recovery time should be respected.”

There are four stages of recovery, from green, least severe, to yellow, orange and red. All Claremont school district personnel are to observe the student during recovery. The red stage recovery can take several weeks.

“We want to prevent the brain from being reinjured before it is fully healed,” McGoodwin said. “It is not only about the physiology, but also about a student’s learning while the healing is going on.”

Another condition of the policy is that all physical education teachers throughout the district complete the National Federation of State High School Association “Concussion in Sports” course.

The board expected to formally approve the policy at the second reading later this month.

McGoodwin told the School Board the comprehensive approach in the policy is important because it makes everyone aware of the student’s circumstances: “It will bring more awareness and sensitivity not only for athletic staff but instructional staff also.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.