As more studies point to the need for students who experience concussions to get mental rest in addition to physical rest, a Naperville District 203 School Board member continues to raise red flags regarding how the district deals with concussion injuries.
A study published in the February edition of the journal Pediatrics says complete cognitive rest is needed for a student recovering from a concussion. District 203 School Board member Suzyn Price said the district’s new concussion policy approved by the board March 17 does not ensure students’ academic needs are being met.
The policy acknowledges the district will implement a program to manage concussion and head injuries sustained by student athletes as per Illinois High School Association protocol. The policy not only covers IHSA-sanctioned sports teams — football, soccer, basketball and baseball/softball — but also school-sponsored club teams, such as lacrosse.
The rules state that any student athlete who is suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury in a practice or game must be removed from participation or competition. Students can return to play or practice only after having been cleared by a licensed physician or certified athletic trainer who is working in conjunction with a physician.
At the March 17 meeting, Price said while School Board policy determines when a student athlete can return to sports play, there is no mention in the protocol for when the student can return to classwork. She said concussions are different from other visible injuries and don’t fit procedurally as a chronic or communicable disease.
Price urged the district to include that in the policy so that students, parents, teachers and staff are on the same page when it comes to concussion aftercare. She is concerned that a teacher might require a student to take a test or complete an assignment even though the student’s cognitive abilities are compromised.
Cognitive rest is critical in concussion recovery, experts say. Dr. Mohammad Sajed, medical director of Neurocritical Care at the Edward Neurosciences Institute in Naperville and Warrenville, echoed the findings of the Pediatrics report that said adolescents who engaged in the highest levels of cognitive activity took the longest to fully recover from their symptoms.
Sajed said students who experience a concussion need time away from both physical and mental activities.
“You need to remove anything that can stimulate the brain,” he said.
The amount of mental free time depends on the severity of the concussion, he said.
When it comes to school, Sajed suggests homework for students be limited and tests be postponed a few weeks.
Even more difficult for students is unplugging from anything high-tech. That includes turning off the television and video games and staying away from social media and texting.
“We want to calm the brain down as much as possible,” Sajed said.
The best way for the brain to heal, he said, is sleep, eight to 10 hours a night.
Superintendent Dan Bridges said his staff will look at how to incorporate concussions into health protocols as the district continues to update its policies. District 203 is working with Illinois Association of School Board attorneys to update the district policy manual, changing everything from outdated wording to adding policies like that for student athlete concussions and head injuries.
Deputy Superintendent Kaine Osburn told the School Board that the district injury protocol currently involves the athletic trainer notifying the school nurse of an incident. The school nurse then will contact the student’s physician, seek permission to get shared information, and ask for the physician’s guidance on what accommodations need to be made and what must be done for the student to return to class.
Challenges arise, Osburn said, when students don’t notify the nurse when they return to school or because a student’s general physician is not up-to-date on the latest concussive procedures.
“Not every GP will be thorough in the kind of guidance they provide for return-to-school related issues, like cognitive rest, for instance, and reducing the level of stimulation as appropriate to that student’s concussive symptoms,” he added.