Bozeman High School football players and other student athletes who suffer concussions may soon have to go through more evaluation before they can return to play.
In an effort to prevent serious brain injuries, the Bozeman School Board discussed Monday a new policy that would spell out in greater detail the steps the school will follow when athletes have concussions. The board is expected to vote on the policy at its next meeting in two weeks.
If approved, the new policy would include a pilot program at Bozeman High requiring athletes to take an online ImPACT test of memory, reaction and recall before their season begins. That would give a baseline score for each individual. Students who later suffer a concussion would retake the test to help measure the severity of the injury and whether they're ready to play again.
The test would be given to hundreds of athletes in sports with potential for contact like football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, track, wrestling, cheerleading and softball, but not golf or cross country.
Only one or two athletes suffer concussions each season, said Mark Meredith, head high school trainer. The reason for revamping the concussion policy is not that it's a widespread problem, but that it's recommended by the Montana High Schools Association.
"We've had some bad concussions in the past," Meredith said.
The new policy spells out that students with concussions would have to be evaluated by a doctor, physicians assistant, nurse practitioner or orthopedic doctor.
Students don't have to be knocked out cold to have a concussion. They may be dazed, stunned or confused, be unsure of the game or score, forget recent events, or have headaches, nausea or dizziness.
The policy spells out that before students could return to play, they would have to first sit out the game or practice, get a written medical evaluation to rule out serious brain injury, and have no symptoms for seven days while refraining from sports.
Then if they continue to show no symptoms like headaches, they could begin light exercise, followed by sport training, non-contact drills and full-contact drills, before returning to a game.
School Board Chairwoman Denise Hayman said she was concerned about students who want to play so badly, they wouldn't tell the truth about the seriousness of their concussion, which could be dangerous. She said she liked the idea that they would have to see a doctor and take a follow-up ImPACT test.
Dr. Alex LeGrand, a team doctor for the Hawks, Belgrade Panthers and Montana State Bobcats, said the test would help keep students honest, though evaluation by a medical professional is probably more important. LeGrand's medical group, Bridger Orthopedics, has donated the $750 cost of giving the ImPACT tests.
"I'm really, really impressed," said Dr. Jeff Cory, a Bozeman clinical neuropsychologist who works with mild traumatic brain injuries. "This is a step in the right direction."
Cory said one Colorado school district backed away from using the online test after some parents complained it wasn't fair that some "goofy test on the computer" was keeping their kids from playing.
Meredith said the new policy would be clearer and a little stronger than current practice. The biggest change would be using the ImPACT test.
Randy Russell, activities director for the school district, said the board wanted a few additions written into the policy, including requiring parents to sign a release form so that the school trainers and doctors could share information.
In other action, the School Board:
--Received an award as a Tobacco Free District of Excellence from the state Office of Public Instruction, for having comprehensive programs promoting healthy, tobacco-free lifestyles. Programs include Bozeman High's SpeakOUT!, Chief Joseph Middle School's Breakfast Club and Sacajawea Middle School's Lunch Bunches.
--Applauded the Sacajawea Middle School Eighth Grade Band, directed by Laurie Hickman, for having been selected to perform at the Northwest MENC (National Association for Music Education) Educators' Conference in Bellevue, Wash., in February. The band will perform with 35 other music ensembles from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.