Bill setting statewide protocols on student concussions on Rauner's desk

Bill setting statewide protocols on student concussions on Rauner's desk

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner now has on his desk a bill that would set up standardized protocols statewide on if, when and how a student should return to a sport after sustaining a concussion.

The bill — unanimously passed in the Senate in April and the House in May — is the brainchild of two Naperville high school students and was sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego.

On Thursday, the governor's office was not yet willing to say if he plans to sign the bill. But if it becomes law, it would have the Illinois State Board of Education adopt specific rules and protocols on how best to accommodate a student who may have sustained a concussion during an interscholastic athletic activity.

It would also ask the Illinois Department of Public Health to write up educational brochures on concussions, listing warning signs and other general information, to be distributed to any student who may have sustained a concussion — whetherat an interscholastic athletic event or otherwise.

The bill notes that concussions are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it cites, estimates that as many as 3.9 million sports-related concussions happen every year in the U.S.

At Mahomet-Seymour High School, head coach Keith Pogue said he deals with one or two concussions a year in football.

"When people continue to do things with concussions, that's where we see trouble," Pogue said. "So my big concern is making sure they don't practice or play when they have symptoms."

It's imperative, Pogue said, to have clearance from a physician before a student gets back on the field to do any kind of activity. When a student is diagnosed with a concussion, Pogue said he tries to keep the student in a dark, non-stimulating environment until they're symptom-free. Only after about three symptomless days can a student come back to do light exercises for about a week.

He added that he thinks some of what's in the bill might end up being redundant, since many school districts already have similarly strict protocols in place.

For example, schools already have to keep on file sign-off forms that notify athletes and their parents about the dangers of concussions and head injuries, a measure signed into law in 2011 by then-Gov. Pat Quinn. Each school can produce its own form, but it has to be approved by the Illinois High School Association.

However, Kifowit, the bill's House sponsor, said too many districts have adopted protocols that don't go far enough.

That's why it's important, she said, to mandate uniform rules across the state.

"What we found is that different districts had different standards and protocols," she said. "The overall focus is that things need to be uniform across the state. One school district may appropriately follow the law and has those protocols, but others might not."

There are certain requirements set out in the bill for students undergoing concussion treatment addressing when they return to play and return to learn. What Kifowit said she had found is that too often coaches prioritize getting their players back on the field, but "don't pay as much attention to return-to-learn protocols." The bill, she said, would give equal time to both.

"With kids, we have to realize that their brain is still developing," said former Illini football player and brain injury researcher Kevin Jackson. "My biggest concern is the long-term complications that come from repetitive head hits."

He said recovery time from a concussion differs from person to person.

"It's hard to pinpoint what's going on, what the underlying factors are and how long the brain needs to recover," Jackson said.

It's the focus on football that Jackson said also contributes to many of the misconceptions around head injuries. Swimmers, soccer players and hockey players are just as likely to sustain some sort of head injury.

He also stressed the importance of patience. Often, he said, coaches want their players back on the field as quickly as possible. With just eight or nine games a season, coaches, Jackson said, are often frustrated with having to keep a player off the field for longer than a week or two.

"But as a parent, I want my kid to be healthy long-term, so I really can't look at it from the short term like they do," he said. "It's about whether my kid will be able to play if he goes to college or plays longer than that. Pulling them out two weeks is better than long-term consequences."