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Baseline Testing for Concussion Proposed by Dr. Starr

Last September, in a meeting with the Montgomery County Board of Education, Superintendent Joshua Starr proposed a districtwide baseline testing program to help identify and monitor concussions in student-athletes. Currently, there is little official procedure regarding the athlete’s treatment and return to school and sports. Baseline testing would provide a way for medical professionals to judge the student’s mental capabilities before and after a head injury, and so determine whether a student is able to function in an academic or athletic environment.

The current MCPS Guidelines and Procedures Regarding Concussions/Head Injuries require that a student who “exhibits signs, symptoms, or behaviors consistent with a concussion” be removed from the practice or contest and not return until cleared by an authorized health care provider. The athletic director of the school must also be notified. However, there is no protocol for assisting the student’s readjustment to school and sports, despite the fact that athletes who suffer concussions often require accommodations to get past lingering symptoms such as sensitivity to light, fatigue, concentration issues, and difficulty with reading. As Rita Boule, Athletic Director at Montgomery Blair High School, says, “The piece that has been missing is what happens when the athlete re-enters the classroom”. Baseline testing, which is an exam conducted during the pre-season that assesses an athlete’s brain functions, including learning and memory skills, ability to pay attention or concentrate, and how quickly he or she thinks and solves problems, may help solve this problem. If medical professionals can figure out the extent of the impairment to a student’s capabilities, they can provide a more accurate and comprehensive treatment, as well as being able to predict when the student will be able to return to a normal schedule. This will be particularly important for the student’s academics: MCPS coaches are well trained in concussion recognition, and they ensure that players do not return to sports until they’re healthy enough to do so. But there is no requirement that teachers be notified when one of their students sustains a head injury, and it may be difficult for teachers to figure out what a student is capable of learning when he or she has a concussion. As Boule noted, it’s clear that “yeah, [the student] can’t play, that’s easy. But they still have to perform academically”. She expressed that the program would be a “very good thing” for MoCo student-athletes, as well as for the schools and students who are not athletes, as it would likely help implement more specific protocol for head injuries in general.

The proposed baseline testing program is still very much in the works, with a workgroup organized by Dr. Starr working to answer such questions as whether testing will be optional, whether it would be offered to participants in all sports, and if testing would be required for a student to return to a sport after a concussion. In the absence of a baseline testing program, nine MCPS high schools provide optional testing for its student-athletes. They rely on volunteer medical professionals to administer the tests and maintain the results. The schools are also responsible for the cost of the tests. Dr. Starr stated that the proposed program will have a budgetary impact, and that funding must be identified before it can begin. However, Boule doubts that this will keep the program from being implemented, as MCPS is very concerned with the safety and academic prowess of its student-athletes. The proposed districtwide baseline testing program would help students, doctors, teachers, parents, and coaches work together to ensure that student-athletes receive the best care possible. The program would also help prospective beneficiaries to return to their athletic and academic lives with minimum disturbance.

By Zoe Johnson, SAC press correspondent

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