High School Sports

Manatee County School Board passes stiffer concussion policy

BRADENTON -- After more than a year of discussion, the Manatee County School Board unanimously passed a stronger concussion policy at its meeting Tuesday.

The amended policy, passed by 5-0 vote, includes various measures in handling concussion cases. Student-athletes will receive baseline testing, immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive testing, a recovery period and will be monitored by a concussion team.

The movement toward a more sophisticated district policy was set in motion last October when parents of concussed student-athletes brought the issue up during a board meeting.

Michelle Atkinson, whose son was a freshman football player at Manatee High last year, said there were 40 concussions during the fall season among five high schools (with data from Braden River High School missing).

Work then began to put a policy together for all county schools, said Cynthia Saunders, executive director of middle and high schools.

Saunders and district staff attorney Mitch Teitelbaum are credited with writing the policy with former Coastal Orthopedics concussion specialist Dr. Jeremy Ng and area high school athletic trainers.

"It's vital, and, not to mention, it's a requirement," Saunders said. "The state expects, with the Florida High School Athletic Association, that all districts adhere to a concussion policy. So it's very important that we have one that our athletic directors as well as the trainers, our parents, everyone is aware and familiar with the procedure."

The policy objectives: "to proactively address the risk of head injuries to our student-athletes, to educate student-athletes and their parents to recognize the warning signs of a possible head injury and to safeguard the health of our student-athletes, using clinically proven, objective assessment tools and best practices related to safe post-injury return to activity."

Ng said an original concussion policy proposal more than a year ago was scrapped at the last second. But after Atkinson and other parents complained about the number of concussions -- most from football -- with no official protocols in place, the work began to craft a stronger policy with consultation between the district, athletic trainers and Ng.

"The athletic trainers spent a lot of time over many, many hours learning about concussions," Ng said. "They actually had to do a lot of the legwork. They're the ones that had to go to the schools and go to the teachers and go to the guidance counselors and go, 'No, this kid needs to go home. This kid shouldn't be here or you need to back off, so this kid can recover.'"

Common concussion signs include confusion, memory or concentration issues, dizziness, nausea and vomiting and loss of consciousness. Other symptoms include blurred vision, headaches, fatigue and sensitivity to light and noise.

Ng, who now works at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said private schools in the county have already had a similar policy in place with success.

"Now we have an overall uniform expectation across the district what everybody is required to adhere to," said Saunders.