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Kansas schools should consider the academic effects of concussions, Bill suggests

Student athletes in Kansas are already protected as they recover from concussions, but a potential state Senate bill would extend those protections to classrooms and require school districts to create concussion management teams.

SB 82 would build on the School Sports Head Injury Prevention Act, a law enacted by the Kansas Legislature in 2011 that requires student athletes suspected of suffering a concussion to be removed from their activity and receive written clearance from a physician before returning .

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The new bill also requires schools to establish policies and concussion management teams to prevent and manage head injuries, which can affect weeks or months, at school or in the field.

Each district’s concussion management team—composed of athletic directors, teachers, athletic trainers, and counselors, among other affected personnel—would be required to create both return-to-play and return-to-learning protocols to help students to resume participating safely and responsibly in activities and in the classroom.

SB 82 finds widespread support among Kansas medical professionals for concussion management

The bill has received support from health professionals and public school advocates, who said the measure would help create greater consistency in concussion management and treatment protocols across Kansas school districts.

Mark Padfield, a teacher and athletic coach at Tonganoxie High School, told the Senate Education Committee he was fortunate to work in a district that already has extensive back-to-play and back-to-learning protocols in place.

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But not all Kansas schools have the resources or experience with head injury protocols to offer their students that level of protection, he said.

“This is designed to be a free educational piece to help protect our student athletes in the classroom and make sure they are protected both academically and athletically,” he told the committee.

Approximately 2 percent of Kansas student athletes experience concussions in any given school year

During the 2018-2019 school year, the last full year before COVID-19 tampered with attendance, member schools of the Kansas State High School Activities Association reported more than 2,100 concussions among 112,116 activity participants, for a rate incidence of 1.9%. That figure, however, doesn’t include the many other concussions students could receive in accidents, falls, or non-activity-related incidents.

Rich Bomgardner, a practicing athletic trainer and subject program director at Wichita State University, said new research in the 12 years since the Legislature’s School Sports Head Injury Prevention Act has shown that schools need to think about student recovery both on the field that he teaches.

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By passing the bill, the Kansas Legislature could help provide a basic framework and direction to resources for schools to protect students with concussion.

“Returning to learning is very critical for students as they move forward with their education,” she said. “The last thing we want to see is a student continuing to struggle academically in the learning environment if we don’t have adequate supports and safeguards in place for that student in the school system to make sure they are back on track in their learning cycles.”

Rafael Garcia is an educational reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 785-289-5325. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.

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