TRENTON – A bill which would implement a comprehensive concussion prevention program for student-athletes in New Jersey was unanimously approved by the Assembly Monday, receiving final legislative approval.
The bill, S-2106, would take a multi-pronged approach to concussion prevention in youth sports across New Jersey.
The State Department of Education, in consultation with the Department of Health and Senior Services, would be responsible for developing and implementing, by the 2011-2012 academic year, an interscholastic athletic head injury safety training program to educate public and non-public school physicians, coaches and athletic trainers on the warning signs and symptoms of head and neck injuries and concussions, including the symptoms associated with second-impact syndrome, a serious life-threatening condition resulting from a second concussion while a person is still healing from an initial concussion. The training would also include information about the appropriate amount of time to delay the return to sports competition or practice for a student suspected of suffering from a concussion. Training information would be updated periodically as new research is conducted on childhood brain injuries.
The bill would also require the Department to create a fact sheet to provide information on sports-related concussions and other head injuries to student-athletes and their parents. School districts would be required to annually distribute the fact sheet to students participating in scholastic sports, and would be required to get a signed acknowledgement from a parent or guardian before allowing the student to participate.
The bill would require school districts and nonpublic schools to develop written policies and safety standards to prevent and treat sports-related concussions. These policies would be based on model regulations created by the Department of Education, in consultation with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Association (NJSIAA) and sports-injury and head injury experts. The districts’ policies would be reviewed annually and updated as necessary. In addition, any youth sports organizations which practice or compete on school grounds would be required to comply with the policies set by the school district or nonpublic school in regards to concussion management and prevention, in order to protect the school from liability.
Under the bill, any player who has suffered a concussion or is suspected of having suffered a concussion would be required to be immediately removed from sports competition or practice, and shall not return to practice or competition until he or she receives written clearance from a physician.
Finally, the bill would require licensed athletic trainers, as a condition of their biennial license renewal, to complete 24 hours of continuing education in an approved sports medicine curriculum. Under the bill, part of the continuing education requirements would have to be devoted to programs or topics related to concussions and brain injuries.
The lawmakers added that more attention is being paid to concussions now as a result of certain high-profile cases involving retired NFL players who are suffering the cumulative effects of a lifetime of undiagnosed or untreated concussions. They noted that while concussions and brain injuries have an impact on athletes of all ages, the impact can be most serious on younger athletes, whose bodies and brains are still developing. Medical research has linked untreated concussions to a variety of health problems, including ‘punch drunk’ syndrome, memory loss, chronic headaches and dizziness, tinnitus, light sensitivity and emotional outbursts. Research has also shown that multiple concussions over the course of a lifetime can make athletes five times more susceptible to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease later in life, and can put them at a significantly greater risk for clinical depression and other psychological disorders.
The senators added that athletic trainers, coaches, and parents have a responsibility to make sports as safe as possible for their kids, and no child should have to face serious, long-term health implications because someone missed the signs of a concussion.
The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate last week, and now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.
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