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Senate, House debating student concussion policy

Student athletes in youth sports programs could be included under new concussion policies if a bill seeking to add guidelines for non-interscholastic teams passes.

House Bill 410 patron Del. Richard Anderson (R-Dist. 41) said the bill was introduced in memory of Austin Trenum, a student from Brentsville High School in Prince William County. In August 2011, Austin took his own life after experiencing a concussion during a high school football game late that summer.

Paul McShane, a senior at Centreville High School, who suffered a concussion the same month as Austin, has yet to be medically cleared for any contact sport.

McShane says suffering a concussion is a unique injury because typical remedies do not work. While many players combat injury by taking rehabilitative services or medicine, McShane says there is no concrete treatment for concussions.

“Not knowing is the worst part. I don’t know when the day will be that I don’t wake up with a headache,” McShane said. “I don’t know what it’s not like to have one.”

Virginia public schools instituted new policies for managing student-athlete concussions in the wake of Trenum’s death, but youth sports organizations, which sometimes use public school property, are not legally held to the same standard, Anderson said.

“There’s a well-defined body of guidance for scholastic teams, but there is no requirement right now for non-interscholastic teams to comply with any sort of concussion protocol.” Anderson said.

While the procedure will require extra work for non-interscholastic youth sports programs, Anderson said he thinks the policy should be an easy transition if the groups work in conjunction with the schools.

“If they’re going to practice or play on school property, they’ll have to either develop their own concussion protocols in accordance with school policies or adopt an existing policy that’s been authored and blessed by the state Board of Education,” Anderson said.

The bill was rejected by the House of Delegates after coming back from the Senate. Amendments made by the Senate removed a clause in the bill encouraging the tracking of students’ academic performance after suffering a concussion.

A Senate companion bill without the academic-effects clause currently is making its way through the House, but Anderson says any related bill that passes the House will include the provision.

“When we go to conference committee, we’ll make the agreed-upon version between the House and Senate include the statement about the effects of concussions on student-athletes academically,” Anderson said.

— Chris Suarez, Capital News Service

Measure could amend zero tolerance policy in schools

The statute requiring that students who bring firearm or drugs to elementary or secondary schools are expelled for a full year might soon see a change in Virginia.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Thomas Garrett (R-Dist. 22) seeks to offer leniency under certain circumstances to children facing expulsion or suspension.

“We have a bunch of wonderful professional educators in the commonwealth of Virginia, but they’re not lawyers,” Garrett said. “When you have a federal bill that dictates ‘zero-tolerance policy’ you end up with administrators and educators who think their hands are tied, and they have to expel.”

Federal mandate states students who bring firearms or drugs on to school property “shall” face a suspension or expulsion. The bill, written to clarify the mandate, seeks to substitute the word “may” for “shall,” when there is no real firearm or drugs involved, Garrett said.

Examples of children across the country who have faced expulsion for imitating weapons with objects such as pencils, or fingers, or passing off kitchen spices for illicit drugs is the reason why Garrett says he introduced the bill.

“Where there’s a real gun or real narcotics, I can see a zero-tolerance threshold,” Garrett said. “But when there’s a kid with a Pop-Tart, a pencil or his finger saying ‘pow,’ it’s nuts.”

Garrett’s measure saw little opposition and has now passed the full Senate and House of Delegates.

The Virginia School Boards Association supports the bill and says amendments made by Garrett influenced the association’s decision to back the legislation.

“The amendment was very straightforward and clear; saying nothing in the section should be construed to require expulsion regardless of the facts and circumstances,” said Pat Lacy, a special counsel to the school board association.

— Chris Suarez, Capital News Service