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Policy is set on concussions
Martinsville School Board OK's procedure

Sunday, July 6, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville City Public Schools students who sustain concussions or other head injuries will be permitted to gradually return to their studies, based on advice from their health care providers.

That is part of the “Student-Athlete Concussions During Extracurricular Activities” policy recently adopted by the Martinsville School Board.

Depending on the types and severity of injuries, what one pupil needs might be different from what another needs, and “we must make sure” the schools handle those needs appropriately, said Superintendent Pam Heath.

A Martinsville Middle School student received a concussion while playing in a football game last year. Heath said it was the only such incident she has seen in her 12 years with the school system.

The Martinsville schools had procedures for handling concussions, Heath said. But the General Assembly wants school systems to have “return to learn” protocol concerning students with head injuries returning to their studies, she said.

That — not the football player’s concussion — prompted the city schools to turn their written procedures for dealing with concussions into a formal policy, Heath said.

Still, “when you have an incident happen,” Heath said, “it’s an opportunity to go back and review” procedures to make incidents are handled well.

A concussion is a brain injury marked by cognitive or physical functioning problems and caused by a blow to the head, face or neck, or a blow to the body that causes a sudden jarring of the head. The victim may or may not lose consciousness, according to the new policy.

Symptoms of concussions or similar head injuries include memory problems and trouble with concentrating, sensitivity to bright lights and noises as well as short-term speech, language, reasoning and problem-solving troubles, the policy shows.

Information on concussions is included as part of student/parent handbooks to make them aware that such injuries can occur, according to Heath.

“When you think of concussions, you automatically think of football,” Heath said. Yet concussions can happen in other sports or activities, she said, citing a collision between students marching in a band as a hypothetical example.

A student who falls at school might sustain a concussion, she said.

But the new policy deals heavily with concussions that athletes receive. It states that it is intended to ensure that athletes, coaches and other school employees, parents and guardians understand concussions’ short-term and long-term effects and that athletes thought to have sustained concussions are immediately removed from play, “referred appropriately” (for medical care) and not play again until they have had “adequate time to heal.”

Under the policy, the superintendent will form a “concussion management team” (CMT) made up of a school administrator, an athletics administrator, a licensed health care provider, a coach, a student athlete, a parent or guardian of a student athlete and anyone else deemed relevant.

The CMT will develop training materials for handling concussions for school workers, volunteers and student athletes and their parents. It also will keep records of all incidents in which athletes are removed from competitions or practices because they are suspected of sustaining concussions, the policy shows. It will meet at least once each semester.

Every coach, assistant coach, school employee and athletic team volunteer will learn how to recognize sports-related concussions, strategies to reduce the risk of concussions and how to determine whether an athlete who had a concussion is ready to return to practices or games, the policy shows.

Nobody will be allowed to coach or advise a student athlete if he or she has not received such training within the previous 12 months, it states.

A licensed health care provider or other person who has undergone training in spotting concussions will assess an athlete thought to have sustained one after the student is removed from play.

Even if a student is thought not to have a concussion, his or her coach can decide not to return the student to play, the policy shows.

An athlete with a concussion will not be permitted to return to physical activity without a written release from a doctor, the policy states.

Even with a release, the coach still could decide not to allow the student to participate, if the coach still sees signs of a problem, according to the policy.

If a student is hurt while not participating in a sport, the school nurse often assesses the injury first. But if an injury seems serious, an ambulance may be summoned immediately before the assessment, she said.

Heath did not know exactly how often ambulances have been summoned for students who became hurt or sick, but she said it has been “very rare.”

“In most cases,” she said, “parents will come to get the child” before seeking medical care.

Among provisions of the new policy, all helmets used in physical activities must be certified by manufacturers, when they are purchased, as meeting standards of the National Operations Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, a nonprofit organization striving to reduce athletic injuries.

Reconditioned helmets must be recertified by the reconditioner that they meet those standards, the policy adds.


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