A state law that went into effect July 1, aimed at reducing the number of concussions in children, can prevent students from participating in athletics unless they receive information or complete training.
“An Act Concerning Youth Athletics and Concussions” was introduced by the Committee on Children. It requires the state Board of Education to work with the state’s Public Health Department to develop a “concussion education plan.” Local boards of education would then adopt the plan by using “written materials, online training or videos or in person training,” the bill states.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a “bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works.” Concussions can also occur from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth, according to the agency.
The training required by the law would address the signs and symptoms of a concussion; obtaining proper medical treatment for a person suspected of sustaining a concussion; the dangers of concussions and when to allow a student athlete to return to activity; and current best practices in the prevention and treatment of a concussion.
Beginning with the 2015-16 school year, boards of education can prohibit students from participating in a sport if they and their parents don’t complete training through reading material, watching online videos or an in-person meeting.
In addition to providing training, school systems also have to have a plan in place that details when students can return to their respective sports after sustaining a concussion.
The bill also states that students and parents will receive a consent form from the state Board of Education with details of its concussion education plan, as well as a summary of the local board of education’s policies regarding concussions.
Many of the requirements in the new law are already in effect in area school systems. VJ Sarullo, athletic director at Sheehan High School in Wallingford, said a number of municipalities in the state got a head start developing new policies regarding concussions.
“We jumped ahead of it,” Sarullo said. “... It’s the things we already do that are now put into law.”
Cheshire School Superintendent Greg Florio said the law was a good idea because students and families “certainly need to be made aware” of concussions.
“We’ve been doing a lot of that here in our town with our student athletes,” Florio said. “... We’ve been doing a lot of (informational sessions) and we monitor the students.”
Each student athlete in Cheshire also has to complete an online assessment, he said. If they do sustain an injury, students can retake the assessment and a doctor compares the new data with the baseline data.
The assessment, which is also taken by student athletes in Wallingford and Southington, is called “ImPACT Testing.” ImPACT stands for immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive testing and “provides training clinicians with neurocognitive assessment tools,” according to the company’s website.
Eric Swallow, athletic director at Southington High School, said the test helps coaches tell when it’s safe to allow an athlete to return to a sport after a concussion. In Southington, student-athletes who sustain concussions must first pass the assessment before they can return, Swallow said.
In addition to the online assessment, Swallow said Southington has been “highly proactive” with educating students and parents on the signs and symptoms of concussions. In addition to being deemed eligible to participate in sports by a physician, Swallow said, students and parents will also have to sign a “concussion awareness form.”
“Even though this doesn’t go into effect until the 2015-16 school year, we decided to be ahead of the curve,” Swallow said. “We’ve been highly proactive — I’m formulating the paperwork now.”
Although area schools have been raising awareness of concussions, Florio said he found one aspect of the new law potentially problematic.
“The fact that it extends to intramural sports could be a little more difficult if you have a bunch of kids get together to play an activity after school,” Florio said. “You’d have to make sure they run through the training to make sure they can do the spontaneous activities.”
State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, however, said the law would only apply if it was a “school-sanctioned activity.”
“If it were a group of kids after school having a pickup game? Then no,” the law’s requirements would not apply, said Bartolomeo, a member of the Committee on Children.
She emphasized that the new law isn’t designed to be onerous for school systems.
“This isn’t another mandate or burden to schools,” she said. “This is simply trying to protect our children. There are a lot of benefits to sports, but we want them to be safe and want the parents and students to be informed.”
Area athletic directors said they don’t see the new law as a burden, quite the opposite.
“There’s a fear of concussions because of what you see on something like SportsCenter — how you should be careful if you come home with a headache,” Sarullo said. “This (law) allows us to get the signs, symptoms and turn of play information out there so it’s educational for everyone. It helps the situation going forward.”