The state Board of Education on Wednesday approved new rules on how high schools handle sports concussions, including requiring that a licensed health care professional clear athletes to return to action.
Last year, legislators passed a law requiring the Secondary School Activities Commission to draft regulations aimed at preventing youth concussions. Among other things, they require schools to increase awareness and warn players of the risks of continuing to play after they suffer a concussion.
The legislation also requires schools to create a written procedure for recognizing injuries and then clearing athletes to return to play, including the written permission of a licensed health care professional.
The Board of Education postponed approving the rule in October in order to clarify the definition of certified medical personnel. The SSAC defines it as a medical doctor, osteopath, chiropractor, registered nurse practitioner, physician's assistant or registered certified athletic trainer.
"This is a significant step in how we protect all of our athletes from the short- and long-term impact of concussions," board President Gayle Manchin said in a statement.
The rules require schools to provide concussion-related information to coaches, administrators, athletes and their parents, and that the students and parents must sign a statement prior to the start of practice that season that they've read the information.
Reports on suspected concussions or head injuries suffered in practice or a game must be submitted to the SSAC within a month of the injury.
According to an October report from the nonprofit Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, the number of people ages 19 and younger who were treated in emergency rooms for concussions and other sports- or recreation-related brain injuries nationwide increased from 150,000 in 2001 to 250,000 in 2009.
Concussion rates are highest for football, ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling among male athletes in high school and college, and for soccer, lacrosse and basketball among females. At the college level, women's ice hockey has one of the highest reported concussion rates.
The report found that every state except Mississippi has passed a concussion law since Washington started the trend in 2009, prompted by a 13-year-old who suffered permanent disability after returning to a football game despite a concussion. A similar law took effect in Georgia this month.
The report called for a national tracking system for sports-related concussions.