By LIZ LANE
Capital News Service
COLLEGE PARK — Although the Anne Arundel County Board of Education this year adopted a policy to educate parents, athletes and coaches about concussions, the school system’s athletics coordinator said more needs to be done to ensure the safety of players on and off the field.
Coordinator of Athletics Greg LeGrand said how quickly a concussed athlete can return to play and school and what academic accommodations the student initially receives are two challenges the schools are still facing.
The problem starts, LeGrand said, with the state’s requirement that athletes be cleared by a medical professional before returning to school. The signature doesn’t truly guarantee the athlete is ready to be back, he said.
If a doctor isn’t familiar with an athlete’s specific circumstances and history, the student could be sent back to school too soon, LeGrand said. And athletes should have a “very specific” note to return to school and play, stipulating what activities they’re ready for, he said.
“This is one of the biggest battles we’ve had to face,” LeGrand said.
Dr. Tyler Cymet, Maryland State Medical Society president-elect, said the medical field is working hard to better understand concussion symptoms for the very reason LeGrand mentioned. He said doctors need to stay up-to-date on concussion precautions in order to ensure the safety of athletes.
If an athlete comes back too soon, LeGrand said, there are not only consequences on the field but in the classroom.
“One of the biggest elephants in the room is prescribing appropriate academic accommodation inside the regular school day,” said LeGrand. “It’s a really big important piece, but we’re getting up to speed.”
Every athlete’s injury is unique, so appropriate academic accommodations are difficult to predict, Cymet said. While he said medical professionals are “getting better at matching the injury to the athlete” and therefore guiding them down the appropriate physical recovery path, can the same be said for academic professionals?
The county takes its guidelines for academic accommodation from the 2013 Report of the Traumatic Brain Injury/Sports-related Concussions Task Force, of which LeGrand is a member. The report offers a chart that matches each concussion symptom with a possible repercussion during the school day.
For example, the symptom of headaches is matched with the interference of concentration which is then matched with an appropriate academic accommodation for the student. If a student experiences headaches during the school day after suffering a concussion, the student should be allowed rest breaks, the flow chart suggests.
The chart addresses nearly half of the symptoms associated with concussions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Are these recommendations enough to guide teachers, when each student’s injuries and recoveries from them are unique?
Richard Benfer, the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County president, said the organization does not deal with athletes’ accommodations. An Anne Arundel County Public School System spokesman also declined to comment, referring a reporter to the task force’s report and the county rules.
The county’s new concussion policy, which went into effect in February, requires athletes and parents to sign education and awareness forms, athletes to participate in baseline testing every season, coaches to be trained every two years in recognizing the signs of and response to a concussion, and for parents and school officials to be notified of a head injury.
Even though LeGrand believes more needs to be worked out, he said this policy may help to reduce the nearly 200 concussions sustained across the county public school system each year. Still, not all have embraced the new regulations.
“The athletes don’t like the new policy; the parents have been indifferent until their child sustains a concussion and they see the importance of the new policy,” said Chip Snyder, Chesapeake High School athletic director.
Snyder said Chesapeake athletes sustained 16 concussions in the fall, contributing to the roughly 25 concussions a year at the high school. He said most of those injuries happen in football, when players do not understand proper tackling techniques. Head injuries in soccer and lacrosse players fall close behind, he said.
The county school system is following the lead of the Maryland state school board when it became the eighteenth state to adopt a policy in 2011 for sports-related concussions in schools. The state policy called on school districts to implement rules and regulations for concussions sustained in student athletes, and that is exactly what Anne Arundel County did.
LeGrand said he is happy with the direction in which the schools, and the state, are moving. He said concussion awareness in the county has come a long way from when he first began as coordinator eight years ago.
Snyder shared similar sentiments. “I really feel the athletes are much better served, and we are really making sure if a head injury occurs, their safety is our number one priority.”