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Peterborough / Wilton

School concussion policies evolving

Changes in state law last year had school districts reviewing how they handle head injuries among their high school athletes. Now, a new bill signed into law in May will have them looking at how those same injuries can affect younger students as well.

Gov. Maggie Hassan signed HB 180 into law on May 16. The bill amends RSA 200:49-51, which has been in effect since August 2012; it outlines procedures a school must go through when a student athlete is suspected of having sustained a head injury. The law, which previously only applied to students in high schoolers, stipulates that if it is suspected that a student athlete has a concussion or head injury in a practice or game, he or she will be removed from play immediately, and will not return to play that same day or until they are evaluated and cleared by a health care provider. In addition to medical approval, the student must also have parental permission to return to play. The law will go into effect Monday, 30 days after it was passed.

HB 180 didn’t change any of the procedures outlined in that RSA — only to whom the law applies. Now, all student athletes from the fourth grade and on are covered by the law. The bill also clarifies that student sports includes intramural sports programs conducted outside the regular teaching day, or competitive athletic programs between schools.

Butch Estey, the ConVal School Board chair, said in an interview Tuesday that the School Board is aware of the changing law and is working with the ConVal Athletic Department to update the district’s existing concussion policy.

“We’re very aware of it,” said Estey. “A young mind is very fragile. We have to be prepared for injuries and our rules have to be prepared . Athletics is a big part of the school, and we want to be sure we make it as safe as possible. Anything that makes it better for the kids, any School Board is going to vote for that change.”

Estey said high school athletes now are more aware of the dangers of head injuries, and are more likely to report a knock on the head than a younger student who might not be as aware of the dangers. It’s up to the school to ensure that the trainers and coaches who will be on site for games and practices receive the necessary training to recognize the red flags.

“Ongoing training is a must,” said Estey.

The Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District took steps to include young students in their concussion policy when the law changed back in August, said WLC School Board Chair Geoff Brock in an interview Wednesday.

“When we were looking at the policy, we said, ‘Why are we protecting only the older people?’” Brock recalled. “So our policy includes all students within the district. As far as what the state has done with updating the law, we agree.”

In fact, Brock said, he wasn’t sure why the law hadn’t included all students, and only covered injuries that occur during sporting activities. The existing WLC policy includes any head injury that occurs on school grounds. “You can get a concussion doing any number of activities,” Brock said. “It doesn’t matter how you get the concussion, [the district] wants to know how to respond.”

WLC will have to update the procedure portion of their policy, which quotes the RSA, to reflect the state changes, but the overall way the district handles concussions won’t change, Brock noted. WLC’s policy is stricter than the state requires, not allowing students to resume sports activity after a head injury until cleared by a doctor.

The state law prohibits only return to activity the same day without clearance.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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