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State concussion law now requires local plan

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By Reece Murphy

The Lancaster County School District is expected to begin developing a series of district-wide athletic concussion guidelines in the wake of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s approval of a state athletic concussion bill last month.

While local educators  were not participants in developing the bill, the bill largely mirrors a comprehensive concussion plan developed last year by Indian Land High School officials.

Haley signed the Student Athletes Concussion bill into law Aug. 15.

The popular, non-partisan bill passed unanimously before moving to the governor’s desk.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, Haley said during the ceremony she fully supports the legislation, and as a mother with a son who plays basketball and a daughter who is a cheerleader, the bill is personally important as well.

“It (the legislation) tells me as a mother what to watch out for and more importantly, I know that if there is an injury, the school and coaches are going to know what to do – the school district has a plan in place,” Haley said. 

“This is about quality of life for our kids, and I am proud to be part of it.”

Among those accompanying Haley at the signing were representatives from both chambers of the General Assembly, representatives of organizations that helped write the bill and high school principals, athletic directors, coaches and student athletes from across the state.

State Sen. Mike Fair said he could identify with concussion sufferers since he suffered several himself as a former University of South Carolina quarterback. He said research now shows a single concussion can have lifelong consequences for a student athlete.

The new law, Fair said, will help mitigate those consequences.

“The unanimous passage of this bill in the General Assembly and the governor’s resounding support means we will now have model protocols across the state to prevent, recognize and treat head trauma in student athletes,” Fair said.

What’s in it?

The Student Athletes Concussion law creates a section of code aimed at reducing, identifying and treating concussions in all student athletes.

The law requires guidelines for the identification and treatment of concussions be posted on the websites of the S.C. Department of Education and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The law requires that local school districts develop and implement guidelines based on state standards. It also requires parents or guardians receive and provide written acknowledgment of receipt of the guidelines before their student can play sports.

The law calls for students suspected of suffering a concussion during a game or practice to be removed from activities. However, the student may be reinstated if a medical assessment determines a concussion isn’t suspected.

If a student suffers a concussion, they must now have medical clearance from a physician before returning to practice or play.

The Student Athletes Concussion bill was developed in part, with help from the Brain Injury Association of South Carolina, the South Carolina Athletic Trainers’ Association, the South Carolina Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children and leading state physicians.

Local reaction

The law comes nearly a year after ILHS unveiled its comprehensive concussion plan developed by assistant principal David Sweem, his wife and school nurse Jaimie Sweem and counselor Marisa King.

Sweem has since shared the schools’ plans with other school districts outside Lancaster County.

David Sweem said the state law matches ILHS’s plan closely, except the schools uses a more comprehensive team approach.

“We based our procedures on all of the latest research and best practices and it matches up the same,” Sweem said.

“The only difference is that we go a little further with incorporating academic adjustments in the classroom for students who have a severe enough concussion that they will need assistance with academic work until they recover,” he said.

Jonathan Phipps, Lancaster County School District director of secondary education, said the district is already in compliance with the law.

He said the school district started work to address concussions during the 2012-13 school year. As a result, he said the law’s basic requirements were in place at the beginning of the school year. Student athletes participating in football and volleyball were given the forms to carry home for their parents to read and return.

“We even gave copies of them to the teachers,” said Buford High School Athletics Director Mike Wells. “We wanted everyone in the loop to know the signs when a concussion is suspected.”

Phipps said making sure schools are monitoring concussive students in the classroom goes beyond the scope of the new state law.

“A concussion is going to affect a kid with their academics, but we want to make sure students are as fine in the classroom as they are on the field,” Phipps said. 

“Our goal is whenever a student is injured with a concussion, their teachers are made aware of it and aware of any potential accommodations that need to be offered.

“Our thought is they’re student athletes and the student aspect comes first,” he said.

Phipps said he is currently visiting coaches and other educators at county schools and should have a rough draft of the district’s academic procedure for concussive students ready in coming weeks.

He said he’ll then send out copies of the draft for their consideration and refine it afterward with  input before taking it to the school board.

“I just want to make sure everybody’s on board with what we’re doing and know what our expectations are,” Phipps said.

 

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151