By Briana Vannozzi
The bill requires students with concussions to have permission from a health care provider before going back to school. Just like the return to play rules, lawmakers want a strict return to learn policy.
“This has been an issue that has many people confused. Parents really don’t know what the school’s role should be,” said Joanna Boyd, public education coordinator for the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey.
The measure has strong support in the Assembly. It passed out of committee easily. Increasing awareness about the dangerous effects of concussion and the long-term consequences spurred lawmakers to take action. If approved, education experts would tailor make a plan to reintegrate the child to the school setting.
Boyd says, “When it comes to concussion, the circumstances are so very individualized for each child and it ends up with the school not quite knowing what to do. When accommodations are made they don’t know when to pull back on them.”
“Well it’s so important now because the brain is still developing in uncertain terms physiologically, metabolically, and they’re more prone at that stage to be subject to concussions,” said Dr. John Shumko, medical director at the Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes.
Research shows recovery time for children takes a lot longer. Sometimes, their symptoms don’t show right away. And they often have a hard time verbalizing them. Rosemarie Scolaro Moser runs the Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey.
“So if you have all of these symptoms and you put the student back in the classroom too soon, they’re not going to performing as well as they should. They’re probably going to become more symptomatic and you’ll be interfering with the healing process that occurs acutely after a concussion,” Moser said.
A “licensed health care professional” — in other words a provider whose practice diagnoses and treats concussions, like Moser’s — would be required to evaluate the students and give them clearance. It also restricts activities like recess and gym and only applies to public schools. Plans would be adjusted as a student progresses.
“There are no cookie cutters here. Every concussion and every individual heals in a different way so we need to be able to have a way that we can moderate or at least tailor the program for the student to return to school,” Moser said.
According to the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey — which provides resources, education and outreach for patients and their families — roughly 9,000 people experience a brain injury every year in the state, though the numbers are hard to track. Boyd’s son was hit as a pedestrian on the way to his fourth birthday party.
“By the time he entered school he was certainly in special education with an IEP but year after year — we’re going back now into the ’90s — year after year we brought in a specialist to speak to the child, study team and to the teachers to help them better understand how to teach this child,” she said.
A similar bill was proposed last year. It had bipartisan support and widespread advocates in the community. But it failed to pass through all the legislative hurdles before the end of the session. Lawmakers tell me this year though, that won’t be the case.