Last week, Governor Rauner signed into law the Youth Sports Concussion Safety Act (Public Act 99-0245) which includes a number of new requirements relating to student concussions for school districts, charter schools, and private schools with students participating in interscholastic athletic activities. School concussions are already a highly regulated issue in Illinois, after a 2011 law mandated a number of policy, student and parental notification and consent, and staff training requirements related to student concussions. The new law adds to these requirements, imposing a number of additional concussion-related mandates on school boards, some of which apply regardless of whether the concussion took place while the student was participating in an interscholastic athletic activity. The intersection between the new law and the old and the application of the law even to concussions sustained outside of school may lead to some confusion, and requires careful attention to ensure all requirements are met, even for those school districts whose students do not participate in interscholastic athletic activities. All but one of the law’s requirements are applicable beginning with the 2015-16 school year, meaning that school districts must move quickly to grapple with the changes required by the law.
The following are the key mandates in the new law:
- Student and Parental Consent. Students may only participate in interscholastic athletics if they and their parents have signed off on a form approved by the IHSA that contains specified elements regarding concussion information. Although not addressed in the law, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has such a form on its website. Our firm has not reviewed the form.
- Removal from Athletics or Competition. The law dictates the circumstances when a student must be removed from practice or competition; specifically, when certain responsible individuals believe the student might have sustained a concussion during practice or competition.
- Concussion Oversight Team. School boards must appoint or approve a “concussion oversight team” which must establish a “return-to play protocol” and a “return-to-learn protocol” based on certain standards. The protocols determine when a student may return to practice or competition and to the classroom after a head injury. There are a number of individuals who the law says should be part of the team, such as a physician and a nurse or athletic trainer, if ones are employed by the school.
- Return-to-Play and Return-to-Learn Protocols. The return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols must include a number of required elements. For instance, before a student can return to play after a concussion, the student must be treated by a physician or athletic trainer, the physician or athletic trainer must provide written authorization to the person at the school responsible for compliance with the protocols that the student can return to play, and the student and his or her parent/guardian must sign a waiver with certain mandated content. The law specifically prohibits the coach of an interscholastic athletics team from clearing a student to return to play after a concussion.
- Emergency Action Plan. The school board must also approve a school-specific, written emergency action plan, reviewed by the concussion oversight team and approved by the superintendent or designee or other chief administrator or designee of the school, to address “serious injuries and acute medical conditions in which the condition of the student may deteriorate rapidly.” The plan must be distributed to all appropriate personnel, posted conspicuously at all venues utilized by the school, and reviewed annually by all athletic trainers, first responders, coaches, school nurses, athletic directors, and volunteers for interscholastic athletic activities.
- Required Training. The law requires that a number of individuals, including physicians, athletic trainers, and school nurses serving on the concussion oversight team and coaches of interscholastic athletics teams, undergo training to be approved by the IHSA. This is the only portion of the law that appears to have a delayed implementation date. Training must be completed for the first time no later than September 1, 2016.
- Supervisory Employee. The school board must also appoint a person, other than a coach of an interscholastic athletic team, who is responsible for implementing and complying with the return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols. That person must be supervised by the superintendent or other chief administrator of the school or his or her designee.
Notably, the law suggests that at least some of its mandates, including the return-to-learn protocol, are required whether or not the concussion took place while the student was participating in an interscholastic athletic activity. Accordingly, all school districts, charter schools, and private schools including those whose students do not participate in interscholastic athletics, should carefully assess their programs to ensure compliance with the law as soon as possible.