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Multiple States Attempting to Strengthen Youth-Concussion Laws

Now that all 50 U.S. states have youth-concussion laws, a number are going back and looking for ways to improve upon them.

In Virginia, for instance, a House bill introduced in mid-January aims to require each local school division to "establish a management plan for implementation and compliance" with pre-existing policies and procedures regarding the identification and handling of suspected concussions in student-athletes. Though it may sound like a small change, formalizing the process in which potentially concussed student-athletes are handled could lead to fewer issues across all sports teams in the state.

Just last year, Virginia expanded its youth-concussion law to cover non-interscholastic youth sports programs that use public school property, too. Those programs must now establish policies and procedures regarding the identification and handling of suspected concussions in student-athletes that either follow the local school division's rules or are consistent with such policies. Last year's changes also required the state board of education to alter its guidelines to each local school division regarding concussion-related information policies, forcing the board to include information about how concussions can affect the academic performance of student-athletes. (The American Association of Pediatrics issued a clinical report about that very topic in October 2013.)

In Illinois, meanwhile, a Senate bill filed in mid-January would require all school districts and charter schools to appoint a concussion oversight team, which would be required to establish a return-to-play protocol, based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence. The bill would require each concussion oversight team to include at least one physician and at least one or more of an athletic trainer, an advanced practice nurse, a neuropsychologist, or a physician assistant.

"(Concussions) are major concerns that I know families have and school districts have and coaches have," the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Dan Kotowski, told The State Journal-Register. "So I want to make sure the kids participate and enjoy the opportunity to play the game, but also that they're healthy and safe."

Unlike the state's original youth-concussion law from 2011, which did not mandate any formalized concussion education for coaches, this bill would force the Illinois High School Association to approve training courses that "provide for not less than 2 hours of training in the subject matter of concussions, including evaluation, prevention, symptoms, risks, and long-term effects." Coaches and members of the concussion oversight team would be required to take such training courses at least once every two years. The bill would also require the governing body of each school district and charter school with interscholastic sports to develop a "venue-specific emergency action plan for interscholastic athletic activities to deal with serious injuries and acute medical conditions in which the condition of the patient may deteriorate rapidly." (The National Athletic Trainers Association has been making a similar recommendation for years.)

These aren't the only two states attempting to make changes to their youth-concussion laws; they're just a sample of the work being done among legislations across the country. In Arizona, a House bill seeks to recognize August 20, 2015, as a "Concussion Awareness Day," while a Senate bill in Wyoming would limit school districts' liability for failing to implement concussion-related sports protocols. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle's editorial board gave a "Thumbs Down" to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Bill Landen, for sponsoring such legislation.

"We don't know everything about concussions, but we do know that it's up to coaches and school officials to err on the side of caution when a head injury is suspected," the editorial board wrote. "If they fail at that, they should be held liable."

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