September 1, 2012
Schools strengthen concussion policies
State mandate requires more protections for high school athletes
As the mother of a high school athlete, Vicki Grant knows why New York state’s school districts adopted tougher measures to prevent concussions, as the 2012-13 school year begins next week.
Her son Codee, a Homer High School football player, has had five concussions.
But he has been cleared by the family doctor and by a concussion treatment facility in Syracuse to play contact sports.
He was in uniform Thursday as Homer’s varsity football team opened its season with a win over host Cortland.
“I’m worried, he’s not,” she said before the game, nodding toward her son.
“I’m not really worried,” Codee agreed. “We learn how to hit. The first three weeks of practice were dedicated to preventing injury.”
Three of his concussions were from sports, two from car accidents.
The Mayo Clinic defines a concussion as a traumatic brain injury that alters brain function. The most common symptoms of a concussion include headache, amnesia and confusion; other effects include temporary loss of consciousness, vomiting and slurred speech.
The state Board of Regents adopted a stricter policy in April for how long high school students must be kept out of competition, from interscholastic sports, after suffering a concussion.
School districts and their boards of education have been changing their policies to reflect the new state mandate, which became law on July 1. The Homer and Cortland boards of education have done so in the past month. The mandate broadens the Homer schools policy, and is symptom, not diagnosis, focused, Superintendent Nancy Rusio said.
The new law requires a six-day protocol following a student’s injury, with a series of tests and evaluations by physicians and school staff before the athlete is cleared to play.
Rusio said student concussion management steps include:
— reducing physical and cognitive activities;
— education about symptoms and maintenance;
— accommodating the injured student, including making cognitive workload adjustments; and
— graduating a student’s return to activities until he or she is symptom free.
The policy does not apply to concussions suffered during physical education classes or during a school day.
School officials point out that a child can fall off a swing or a student can slip on a flight of stairs, which in either case could cause a concussion. The policy covering concussions in those circumstances remains the same as before.
Jeff Johnson, Cortland city schools director of physical education and athletics, requires a student’s parent or guardian to review with the student a fact sheet from the state about concussions and their health effects. The concussion management policy covers all physical activity that might lead to concussion. In sports, an athlete can suffer a concussion from not just football, hockey or lacrosse, but from soccer, wrestling or basketball.
For the Grants, the worries about head injury for Codee are outweighed by his wish, and his mother’s, to let him do what he loves.
“It puts a parent in a very tough spot,” Vicki Grant said. “I worry about how he’ll be years from now, will he suffer permanent damage. But he’s an athlete and I feel like I’m taking away from his high school experience if I take that away from him, based on something that may or may not happen.”
Codee Grant said his concussions were mild but he knows five is the limit under the new policy and he cannot have any more.
He said his head is fine.
Staff reporter Sarah Bullock contributed to this article.
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