If you are not sure what a Concussion Contact is, much less who your Concussion Contact is, don’t be alarmed – you are not alone. This term comes from the 2015 North Carolina Return to Learn After Concussion Policy, which took effect during the 2016-2017 school. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction created this Implementation Guide to help school districts meet the learning, emotional, and behavioral needs of all students, following a concussion. They also produced this Parent Information Brochure (also available in Spanish) to provide information for families.
The Return to Learn (RtL) Policy was intended to broaden the existing 2011 Gfeller Waller Concussion Awareness Act (GWCA), which addressed concussion management for public school sports injuries. The GWCA provided guidance for managing concussion symptoms of middle and high school students, including return-to-play guidelines. However, the GWCA did not address student concussions that were not directly related to sports or that occurred outside of public school sports. It also did not address injuries to younger students and the focus was clearly on returning to play, not to the classroom.
The RtL guidelines essentially broaden and expand the existing GWCA to include all of our students, regardless of where and how the concussion was sustained. While it is absolutely critical to ensure student safety before they return to the playing field, we are thrilled to see that DPI recognizes that they are students first, and athletes second. Return to Learn is focused on classroom success, not just athletic success.
The biggest part of RtL involves each school district developing a plan for how to respond to student concussions. This includes immediately removing the child from any activity that could result in further injury, as well as written notification to all stakeholders (including coaches, administrators and teachers) if a student has been diagnosed with a concussion. This is where the “Concussion Contact” comes in, as this person coordinates that student’s Return to Learn. Each school will designate a Concussion Contact who becomes the point person in that building for any staff member who is notified that a student has experienced a concussion.
The injured student may require a Medical Care Plan, if there are lingering physical effects, or an Educational Care Plan, if there are academic, behavioral or emotional difficulties resulting from the concussion. If the student is symptom-free after two weeks, the plan can be discontinued. If symptoms persist, the student is referred to the Intervention Support Team (IST) for ongoing support and monitoring. That Team should include a School Psychologist who is an Approved Provider of TBI evaluations – and we are fortunate to have 7 providers on staff in W-S/FCS. DPI suggests that, if symptoms continue beyond six months, an evaluation for possible Exceptional Children’s services may be warranted.
In addition to establishing a process for returning students to the learning environment following a concussion, the Act requires that school districts provide annual training to all teachers and other school personnel on the potential behavioral and learning effects of concussion. The Act also requires school districts to include a question related to any type of head injury/concussion on its annual student health history and emergency medical information forms.
W-S/FCS is currently rolling out the district’s plan for how to follow through with the requirements of the Return to Learn Act, but we wanted to give you a Heads Up (that’s an inside joke, for those of you not familiar with the CDC’s Heads Up program on sports-related concussions). ? The important thing to remember as we await more guidance is that this Act truly is about returning to LEARN, not just returning to PLAY.