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Illinois Bill Would Regulate Return to Class for Students With Concussions

After suffering a concussion, just about every state requires a student-athlete to receive written clearance from a licensed health-care professional before returning to his or her respective sport. Far fewer states, however, address student-athletes' return to the classroom following a concussion.

Illinois may be en route to joining that latter group. The state Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would require schools to create a concussion oversight team responsible for establishing both a return-to-play and a return-to-learn protocol.

"Student-athletes who have sustained a concussion may need informal or formal accommodations, modifications of curriculum, and monitoring by medical or academic staff until the student is fully recovered," the bill reads. "To that end, all schools are encouraged to establish an return-to-learn protocol that is based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and conduct baseline testing for student-athletes."

Each concussion oversight team "must include to the extent practicable at least one physician," and if the school employs an athletic trainer and/or a nurse, he or she must also be part of the concussion team "to the extent practicable." Each team must have a person responsible for both the return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols.

"Overly exercising your brain exacerbates concussion symptoms," said state Sen. Kwame Raoul to The Southern. "So it's really important for us to focus more than just whether or not we get a kid back on the field or in the court, but also on accommodations for when our children study."

In a 2013 clinical report, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged schools to create a multi-disciplinary team to ease a student-athlete's transition back to the classroom after he or she suffers a concussion. Ideally, the team would consist of four main components: a "family team" (students, parents, guardians, etc.); a "medical team" (a concussion specialist, neurologist, or school physician); a "school academic team" (teachers, counselors, school nurses, and school administrators); and a "school physical activity team" (coaches, athletic trainers, and physical education teachers).

"Every concussion is unique and symptoms will vary from student to student, so managing a student's return to the classroom will require an individualized approach," said Dr. Mark Halstead, a lead author of the report, in a statement at the time. "The goal is to minimize disruptions to the student's life and return the student to school as soon as possible, and as symptoms improve, to increase the student's social, mental and physical activities."

Both Virginia and Nebraska implemented similar return-to-learn requirements for student-athletes last year. After passing the state Senate, the Illinois measure has been sent to the state House for consideration. 

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