Tom Hearn, a parent advocate of Maryland provided initial testimony to the Montgomery County Board of Education earlier this spring. He had a further opportunity to provide testimony/information to the State Board of Education back on May 22nd. Due to that testimony (seen below) there has been a discussion item placed on the agenda for tomorrows regularly scheduled meeting.
I must say that Mr. Hearn has been working his tail off and I am very interested to see how his approach is handled, as most states have not involved the BoE. Mr. Hearn does take up the contact limits in practices; making Maryland and Illinois as the only two states that have been given such a proposal. Here is the testimony (minus the attachments);
May 22, 2012
Maryland State Board of Education
Public Comment Testimony of Tom Hearn
Regarding Concussions in High School Football and Other Sports
Good afternoon, Members of the Maryland State Board or Education and Acting Superintendent Sadusky. I am Tom Hearn and I am a parent of a student at Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County, Maryland.
I wanted to talk with you about concussions in high school football and other sports. As discussed further below, I am requesting that the State Board take three actions to improve the safety of Maryland high school sports athletes:
1. Adopt regulations similar to those adopted by the Massachusetts Department of Health for youth sports concussions; in Massachusetts, the Department of Health has gone through extensive notice and comment rulemaking procedures to develop workable policies and procedures to manage the risk to student athletes of sustaining sports concussions. The result is a set of state-of-the art best practices that are a suitable starting point for the State Board to align with those practices.
2. Impose limits on full contact practices per week in high school football given that the NFL and Ivy League have adopted similar limits in light of emerging medical research; and
3. Reorganize responsibility for sports concussion safety away from the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association, which currently has the lead, to a new department within the Department staffed by a lead public health professional or sports safety professional, such as a certified athletic trainer with experience managing sports health in a large school system, who reports directly to the State Board.
It may not be highlighted in the job description, but collectively you are the senior safety officers for public high school sports in Maryland, and this may be the most important position that you play.
In sports vernacular, collectively you are the Blind Side left tackle for the 15,500 students who play public high school football and the 100,000 or so other high school athletes.
No one ever died from a bad academic education, but high school student athletes die or get serious brain injuries each year from football and other sports. On a practical level, the concussion itself interferes with a student’s ability to participate in academic education, and the student’s recovery depends on following a regimen of cognitive rest, which includes reduced school work.
So concussions can really be a drag on AYP and put roadblocks in the Race to the Top. But I know that the serious risk of a brain injuries and death to students in a school-sponsored activity will be your primary concern going forward.
Concussions do not respect status or social position. Two years ago, Austin Trenum, the son of a sitting member of the board of education in Prince William County, Virginia hung himself two days after sustaining a concussion in high school football. He had no previous history of depression or mental illness; sadly, the cascade of biochemical changes that a concussion inflicts on a brain sometimes results in the student athlete taking his own life. In response, the Prince William County, Virginia Board of Education fast-tracked a Board-level concussion policy.
Sports Concussions are More Common Than Many People Think
One of the lessons that need to be taught is that sports concussions happen more often than most people think. A lot depends on how the concussion question is asked. When a high school athlete is asked about the number of concussions he has sustained, the reply can be low, partly because of a perception that a concussion is something that involves a dramatic loss of consciousness and/or serious amnesia.
In fact, those symptoms are not common, and what is more common is reports of headaches, nausea, dizziness. Sometimes the student athlete reports these symptoms hours or days after a concussion has occurred.
So if student athletes are asked whether they have ever had a blow to the head playing high school sports that resulted in a headache, nausea, dizziness, the affirmative replies are higher than if they are asked if they have ever had a concussion. The Massachusetts Department of Health has included such questions in their 2009 Youth Health Surveys of high school students and found that 18 percent answered yes to questions posed about “blows to the head” with concussion-like symptoms.
When the 2009 Youth Health Survey responses are disaggregated by gender, it showed that 21 percent of the males responded “yes.” For the middle school survey, 23 percent of the male student athletes responded “yes.” (I am attaching the Massachusetts Dept of Health report, 2009 Health and Risk Behaviors of Massachusetts Youth, (see p. 13) and a MDH powerpoint (see. p. 13). The Massachusetts Department of Health included similar questions in its 2011Youth Risk Surveys and the results are expected to be published next month.)
(See Attachments 1-9)
The Maryland State Board of Education’s Attention to Sports Concussions
A review of the minutes of meetings of the Maryland State Board of Education over the last four years does not appear to reflect any discussion or vote regarding concussions in high school sports. Responsibility for sports concussions have been left to the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association and the Maryland Department of Education employee who serves as the Athletic Association’s executive director.
Given the significant public safety issue that concussions pose to student athletes, and the way that the injury and recovery from it compromises academic learning—the State Board’s primary mission—it is critical that, from this point forward, you supervise concussion safety closely at the Board level.
Petition for Three Actions by August 11, 2012
I respectfully request that the State Board take three actions by August 11 when the Fall sports season starts. Because of the seriousness, I respectfully request that the department take these actions on an emergency basis, pursuant to section 10-111(b) of the State Government Article, Annotated Code of Maryland, so that they are in effect before the Fall season for football and other Fall sports begins on August 11, 2012.
Adopt Concussion Safety Regulations Based on Those Adopted by the Massachusetts Department of Health
First, I petition, pursuant to section 10-123 of the State Government Article, Annotated Code of Maryland, that the State Board adopt regulations, based on regulations adopted by the Massachusetts Department of Health, addressing concussion issues at public high school sports.
Attachment 10 reflects the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association’s August 2011 guidelines on managing concussions in sports. Attachments 11 reflects the Massachusetts Department of Health’s regulations on sports concussions and Attachments 12 through 18 reflect the extensive effort of the Massachusetts Health Department’s Medical Director, Lauren Smith, MD and Carlene Pavlos, the Director of the Division of Violence and Injury Prevention on this issue.
Dr. Walks, as you are a public health professional, I hope that you can convey to your fellow members of the State Board the significance of what the Massachusetts’ Health Department has achieved and why the Maryland State Board should follow the Bay State’s lead.
(See Attachments 10-18)
Limit on the Number of Football Contact Practice Per Week. Prohibit Two-A-Days
Football accounts for over half of the concussions in high school sports. Emerging research, however, shows that subconcussive blows to the head also pose a serious risk to the human brain. Studies have shown that high school football players sustain an average of 650 subconcussive blows to the head in a season.
Among student athletes playing the offense or defensive line, the number of subconcussive hits per season can be as high as 2,200. (Please see the attached “Hit Count” Proposal by Dr. Robert Cantu of the Sports Legacy Institute and Boston University.)
Doctors believe that over time, these subconcussive blows can lead to an Alzheimer’s-like brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. CTE has been confirmed in several deceased NFL players and is suspected in NFL great Junior Seau’s suicide last week. Seau’s family has donated Seau’s brain so that it can be autopsied to confirm the CTE diagnosis.
In light of this and similar research, what has been done? In 2011, NFL players negotiated that teams are permitted no more than one full-contact practice per week.
The NCAA still permits 5 full-contact practices per week and two-a-day practices. Last July (2011), however, the Ivy League imposed a 2 full-contact practice limit per week in football. The Ivy League also banned all two-a-day full padded football practices.
The Ivy League took this action based on the leadership of two of their university presidents who are medical doctors. The Ivy League too this action on their own because their presidents felt that getting a consensus on such limits from the NCAA could take years and they thought it was too urgent to wait. That’s what smart people do when faced with imperfect data about a serious health issue.
As far as I know, Maryland and MCPS still have no limit on the number of full contact high school football practices per week. Maryland and MCPS also continue to allow two-a-day full padded football practices.
Duke Beattie heads MCPS Athletics and for the last two years has been the President of the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association (MPSSAA). In the attached email from earlier this month (see Attachment 21), I asked Duke whether the Maryland State Athletic Association has discussed the Ivy League and NFL actions. I am looking forward to his answer and so should you.
Between now and the start of the football season in August, you need to consider why you shouldn’t at least adopt NFL or Ivy League limit for Maryland high school football.
This recommendation would involve no unfunded mandate. While it would be budget neutral for local boards, it would not be brain neutral for Maryland high school football players.
(See Attachments 19-21)
Reorganize Sports Safety to a New Office that Reports Directly to the State Board
Finally, I respectfully request that the State Board reorganize the Maryland Department of Education’s management of sports concussions. Currently the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association manages sports concussions and other sports issues. Managing concussions and other sports injuries requires a skills set that is different than those needed to promote high school athletics, organize tournament in 25 sports, and promote sportsmanship.
Because of this skill set differential, the Athletic Association’s executive director, in the name of the Maryland Department of Education, opposed the 2010 Maryland removal from play legislation. (Attachment 22.) While testifying that the MPSSAA had already adopted similar requirements, he testified:
The bill requires schools to remove from play students exhibiting signs or symptoms of [a] concussion. Conversely, schools would need to facilitate students return to play. As a result, implementation of the bill would require schools to secure the services of a licensed health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions in order to certify resumption of activities. If such a provider could not be secured, programs would need to be discontinued. (Attachment 22)
When the bill was reintroduced in 2011, the Athletic Association’s executive director supported it, but opposed the portion that would require academic accommodations for concussed student athletes. He recommended:
Delete the accommodation requirement. Singling out concussed students for special academic accommodations becomes problematic for teachers, school counselors, and special education departments. (Attachment 25)
The executive director took these positions but there is no evidence in the minutes of the State Board meetings, that reflect briefings on pending State legislation or elsewhere, that these positions were being taken in the name of the Department.
It is hard to imagine that, given the caliber of the State Board members, including a public health professional like Dr. Walk, and the State Board members demonstrated history of being proactive on other public health issues facing students, e.g., harsh discipline policies, gang activities, that they would have sat by silently if asked to vote to endorse the positions taken by the Athletic Department’s executive director.
After the Concussion legislation was adopted in April 2011, the Athletic Association announced the signing with the State Superintendent and the Superintendent of Maryland’s 24 school districts a Master Agreement that would govern sports activity for the next 20 years. The Master Agreement is silent on the issue of concussions in high school football and other sports or any mention of player safety or the Athletic Association’s role as the lead in this issue. And again, there is not indication in the minutes of the State Board of Education that the Master Agreement was ever discussed by the State Board.
Finally, in the MPSSAA’s 2012 guidelines on sports concussion contains a serious flaw on the critical issue of removal of play. The guidelines provide:
After an appropriate medical assessment, any student-athlete suspected of sustaining a concussion shall immediately be removed from play. The student-athlete shall not return until cleared by a licensed health care provider authorized to provide sports physical examinations and trained in the evaluation and management of concussions. (Attachment 10, p. 5) (emphasis added)
No serious sports safety person would qualify the removal requirement on first having an appropriate medical assessment. This guideline could lead a coach or assistant coach to think that the assessment has to be performed by a medical doctor and if none is available, play can continue.
(See Attachments 22-27)
Derek Sheely Foundation
I just want to say that, sadly, we can’t talk about concussions in Maryland without talking about the tragic death of Derek Sheely last summer. Dr. Finan, as a member of the Frostburg State community, you no doubt are familiar with Derek’s story.
Derek graduated from Northwest High School in Montgomery County in 2007. Last August, Derek died from a brain injury he sustained during football practice at Frostburg State University.
Derek’s parents have started The Derek Sheely Foundation to honor Derek’s memory by raising awareness and funding research in concussion and traumatic brain injuries. The Foundation has several upcoming fundraising events, including a June 2 four-mile run (and 1 mile walk) at Northwest High School.
So before you go to bed tonight, please visit the website, http://www.TheDerekSheelyFoundation.org.
You will not be the same person after you do. And you won’t feel the same way about football concussions.
I have great optimism that the State Board can do what needs to be done by August 11. You are fortunate to have among you Dr. Ivan Walks, the former Director of Public Health for the District of Columbia. Dr. Walks extensive experience as a public health professional will allow him to translate the public health aspects. But each of you bring life experiences that will be of great value.
And I have great hopes for Dr. Lillian Lowery, who will begin her tenure as State Superintendent on July 1. In a prior life, Dr. Lowery served as assistant superintendent in the public school system in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Fairfax County has been a long-standing model for sports safety, staffing each of its 25 high schools with two certified athletic trainers. At least one trainer is on the sidelines for each football practice and game. Coming out of this culture, I have great hope that Dr. Lowery will work to help local school boards develop the policies and procedures that they need to keep student athletes safe.
Thank you for listening to me today and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.