By: Rachel Hopmayer
Just last week, Bill H.1124 was officially heard in front of the Joint Committee on Public Health within the Massachusetts State Legislature. Bill H.1124 is “An Act relative to concussion prevention” with the proposal to require all private schools, whether elementary, secondary or charter, whose campus is within Massachusetts’ borders must develop an “interscholastic athletic head injury safety program. The bill would also mandate participation in the program and training for coaches, trainers, parent volunteers, school physicians and nurses, athletic directors and those in charge of the school marching band.
The proposed bill includes training that mirrors the knowledge rooted in most “return to learn” protocols seen throughout university athletic programs today. This type of protocol is structured to regulate gradual return to academic and athletic participation in activities after concussions as symptoms subside.
The return to learn protocol to be enforced by the bill includes authorization from a licensed medical healthcare professional such as a physician, neurologist or certified trainer. Students can either see their family’s primary care physician or go to one of the increasingly-popular concussion clinics cropping up around the country that serve as urgent care walk-ins for head injuries.
The students at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. are typically evaluated for concussions at Head First or SCORE clinics in the DMV area and bring their medical forms and injury documentation from there to what Sidwell calls a concussion management team. This includes the head athletic trainer, school health care coordinator, certified athletic trainer, academic support coordinator and the individual student’s advisor or homeroom teacher.
Shannon Fooks, the head athletic trainer at Sidwell Friends, took charge of the co-educational Quaker day school’s concussion protocol seven years ago.
“The nurse and I met and we developed the program,” Fooks said, after returning from athletic training conferences. “We’ve revised it three times since then. First created I want to say in 2010, revised in 2014 and just revised and expanded again this year.”
Before this academic year, Fooks expanded in detail the stages of protocol that students are placed in progress to returning to a full academic course load and athletic participation.
There are four steps in Sidwell’s protocol: red, orange, yellow and green. Each color stage involves expected levels of activity, cognitive testing, parent/guardian management guidelines, student rest levels and academic accommodations available.
“When we first brought this policy out, the teachers weren’t very receptive to it,” Fooks said. “One of our biggest opponents, she didn’t like it at all, she got a concussion. She then realized how awful and how hard it is to do stuff when you’re concussed.”
While Sidwell Friends School stands today as an exemplary example of concussion policy reform and implementation in D.C., not all schools in Massachusetts are currently required to monitor their concussed students and allow academic accommodations when students obtain head injuries.
“Before this, our students were just carrying on [with] their normal school days with concussions,” said Fooks. “There was no help.”
Bill H.1124 would require all of Massachusetts’ private and charter schools to adopt such a program and create uniform policy guidelines across the commonwealth concerning students’ head injuries.
The bill was heard on October 17 from at 1:00 p.m and petitioned by Massachusetts State Representative Cory Atkins, a Democrat from Concord, MA. Representative Atkins was first elected to the Massachusetts State House of Representatives since 1998 and has continuously served since then.
If enacted, this bill would truly prove cognizant of concussion research, injury health and traumatic recovery research being done within the commonwealth of Massachusetts.
When asked for comment on the next steps for the bill, Representative Atkins’ office said there is no certain future within state legislature.
“After the hearing, we’ll wait for Committee on Public Health to decide where to send bill next,” a spokesperson said via phone Monday morning. “Whether that’s the Third Reading Committee or elsewhere, it’s really in the hand of current Committee. That decision could come in the next week or several months.”