The Maryland state school board adopted regulations Tuesday that require more concussion training for those responsible for student-athletes and beef up protocols for addressing head injuries.
In addition, the board will convene an advisory board to recommend limits on exposure to contact in sports in which concussions can occur.
The unanimous vote to adopt the regulations concludes a months-long process to tackle the issue in Maryland, which included emergency regulations and a 21-member task force made up of physicians, athletic trainers and school administrators.
The regulations, which became permanent Tuesday, include training for physical education teachers and a biennial refresher for coaches. School districts will be required to draw up policies that address timely notification to athletic directors and school nurses, documenting oral and written notification to parents and guardians when a concussion has been sustained, and academic accommodations for injured students.
The regulations also call for identifying health care workers authorized to permit students to return after a concussion.
Edward Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, who co-chaired the task force, said the regulations put Maryland "on the cutting edge" of a problem that has been debated from small, recreation leagues to the National Football League.
He also said that the proposals met little resistance, telling the board: "People are on board with this."
However, Sparks said that when a state-mandated advisory team convenes to recommend limitations on contact exposure for athletes — also part of the new regulations — sports communities will understand the strong message the new regulations send. The advisory team will also identify which sports it considers collision, contact and noncontact.
The team will begin meeting in June and come up with recommendations in July, state officials said.
Sparks said that although many coaches may already take precautions with contact exposure, making it a rule raises the stakes.
"In practice, it won't mean a lot," Sparks said. "But in message and theory, it means a whole lot. Now when you say you can't do it, you're saying there are real deleterious effects on young people, and we need to protect them."
He said that while the state won't necessarily monitor compliance, the message will be clear.
"This is something you just don't fool around with," he said.
Thomas Hearn, the parent of a Montgomery County football player who sustained a concussion and has lobbied the state board to strengthen its regulations, called the new regulations "a positive step forward."
Board members agreed and urged the state to now begin looking at preventive measures.
"I would ask you to think more actively about the longer-term plan," board member James H. DeGraffenreidt said. "The big picture is we have to come up with new ways to think … beyond to actual prevention."
Board President Charlene M. Dukes also urged a second look at other injuries that athletes are susceptible to, such as heat stroke during practice in the summer.
Sparks said the state has explored the issue and that it's 100 percent preventable, adding that the state has taken measures to drastically reduce practice time in the heat.
However, other health problems such as sudden cardiac deaths among student-athletes are less clear-cut.
"That's an issue," he said. "But whether that's preventable, we don't know."
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