School board OKs concussion procedures

What does a child playing on the playground of a Vermillion public school have in common with a pro football player?

Both can easily suffer a concussion.

The Vermillion School Board, in a move that shows it is in step with other school districts nationwide in recognizing the seriousness of this problem, recently approved a policy that outlines what steps should be followed when it is suspected that a student has suffered a concussion  during a school activity – be it participating in recess or in an athletic event.

When the issue of a concussion policy first came up, school board members had a lengthy discussion on how it should be handled. The board approved the policy on its second reading.

The vote was unanimous among the board, and it received high praise from Vermillion Athletic Director Jason Huska.

"We felt we needed the policy here because this can't be taken lightly," Huska said. "The research shows a good amount of damage can be done to the brain at a young age."

Local medical professionals are glad the school board passed the new policy.

"I think this is a very proactive thing," said Matt Krell, a pediatrician at the Vermillion Medical Clinic. "It's a very good move by the school district, because there is now a policy to abide by that protects all the kids at the school."

Not only did the Vermillion school board protect athletes in the new concussion policy, but they also included all students.

The new concussion policy states "students in a state of local sanctioned activities who exhibit behavior or signs indicative of a concussion shall be immediately removed from the physical activity and encouraged to be examined by a medical doctor as soon as possible."

Huska said it was important to not only protect athletes from concussions, but also the whole student body.

"We need to keep all students safe, and this was the best route to keep them safe," he said. "Kids fall all the time, from a kid slipping, or accidentally running into a locker when someone opens it or even in P.E. class."

Krell added he has seen a number of head injuries from students who don't participate in sports.

"We have seen high school head injuries, but we have seen them in grade school," he said. "We have kept them from P.E. and kept them from being active, until they were clear of all symptoms."

A concussion is considered a traumatic brain injury that interferes with normal brain function.

Last year, the National Federation of State High School Associations estimated over 140,000 high school athletes across the United States suffered a concussion.

Some schools have allowed athletes to return to play within 15 minutes of suffering such a brain injury.

Concerns over athletes returning to play too quickly after suffering a concussion led Oregon and Washington to pass laws stating no player can return to a game or practice on the same day, and they must be cleared by an appropriate health-care professional before they are allowed to return.

The Vermillion school board followed suit about a week ago.

After suffering a concussion, even a minor one, students won't be able to resume physical activity until they receive clearance from a certified medical doctor, and a student's parent or guardian must sign a "return to activity" permission form.

"Some policies that we looked at didn't define what kind of physician needed to give clearance, but ours has to be a medical doctor," Huska said.

Because the policy covers all students, Huska helped work with not only coaches, but also teachers in how to look for concussions.

"I went over in detail the signs and symptoms, and hopefully we will have a better awareness," he said. "Concussions aren't always noticeable right away, but now they will know what to look for, so we can better read this and get the kid to the right personnel."

Some of the symptoms that indicate an individual has suffered a concussion include headache, nausea, clumsy movements, the inability to answer questions quickly, confusion and double or fuzzy vision.

Losing consciousness is also a sign of a concussion, but it was once considered a major symptom.

"With the older version, the concussion sign was you were knocked out," Huska said. "The new definition now states that it's a hard hit to the head. You don't have to be knocked out."

Huska said the high school has seen maybe one to two concussions a year, but Krell has estimated the total student body in Vermillion has likely suffered 10 to 15 concussions a year.

"I have seen a handful from mild to traumatic brain injuries, but that number isn't counting everyone in the school district," he said. "Everyone is probably seeing a few, and that's taking all ages into account.

"I don't think this has come because of more concussions, but because of more awareness," added Krell as he talked about the number of students treated for concussions.

Huska said he didn't know how many schools have a concussion policy like Vermillion, but he said they should be common around the state soon.

"There has been a big push by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, and the schools that don't have one are working on one for the students' safety," he said.

"This is something that should've been done 30 to 40 years ago, but we didn't have the research we do now," Huska added. "Now we know of the long term effects and how concussions can affect the a teenagers' brain long term."

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