EDITORIAL

Protecting Student Brains

Posted April 03, 2011, at 6:33 p.m.
Last modified April 04, 2011, at 10:19 a.m.

If the National Football League has awakened to the threat from repeated head injuries, it’s certainly time for Maine public schools to develop mandatory protocols for those suspected of suffering concussions.

LD 98, sponsored by Rep. Donald Pilon, a Saco Democrat, would direct the Education Commissioner to create a policy to respond to head injuries in school sports. At a hearing on the bill, a mother offered emotional testimony about the lack of response to her daughter’s head and spine injury. Last year, Roxanne Doyer said, her daughter Olivia was practicing with the school cheering squad. The girl had been dropped on her back repeatedly while being tossed in the air.

Finally, in one routine, she fell 20 feet, landing on her head and neck. No one called for medical help, no one called the athletic director or trainer and no call was made home, the mother told legislators. Instead, the girl was helped to a bench and given her water bottle.

When the girl’s mother picked her up after practice, she was in severe pain and so took her to a hospital where she was diagnosed with a cervical sprain and severe concussion. The girl missed three months of school.

At the hearing on LD 98, Rep. Ed Mazurek, D-Rockland, asserted that safety measures were long overdue. Rep. Mazurek, coincidentally, played college football and signed with the New York Giants of the NFL.

LD 98 would direct Education Commissioner Steve Bowen to form a committee to study the issue and issue recommendations. The commissioner then would create a policy on the response to possible concussions that would be mandated in all state schools. The policy would require students suspected of suffering a concussion to be removed from a practice or game and not allowed to return until they were evaluated for a brain injury and received written permission from a neurologist or athletic trainer. The Maine Principals Association supports the proposal.

The evidence is compelling — professional and student athletes who are struck or fall on their heads or necks repeatedly or even once are at risk of suffering lifelong debilitation. Maine public schools must be proactive and diligent in preventing the injuries, but a logical first step is to develop clear protocols for responding to a suspected injury. LD 98 represents that first step.

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