New Concussion Safety Requirements for Schools Now Effective 2015-2016 School Year

In August, Governor Rauner signed into law the Youth Sports Concussion Safety Act (Public Act 99-0245). The Act includes new requirements for concussion safety for public school districts, charter schools, and private schools with students participating in interscholastic athletic activities. In order to address concerns in the school community regarding implementation, it is anticipated a “trailer bill” delaying the effective date of the new law to the 2016-2017 school year will be passed and signed by the Governor within the next month. Until then, this new law is in effect for schools.

Management of student concussions has been increasingly regulated since a 2011 law that mandated, among other things, that school districts adopt a policy regarding student-athlete concussions, student and parent notification and consent, and staff training. In 2014, another law mandated online concussion awareness training for all high school coaching personnel and  for student-athletes to watch the Illinois High School Association’s (“IHSA”) video about concussions.

The new law adds to these requirements, imposing additional concussion-related mandates on schools. Notably, some of the new requirements apply whether or not the student sustained the concussion while participating in an interscholastic athletic activity.

Over the course of this school year, the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) will be preparing guidance documents, and the IHSA will be preparing revised concussion training materials and forms. For school districts that subscribe to the Illinois Association of School Boards (“IASB”) PRESS policy service, a revised concussion policy likely will be published in October.

Here is a summary of the key mandates in the new law:

  • Concussion Oversight Team (“COT”):
    • School boards and the governing body of charter schools and private schools must appoint or approve a COT.
    • Members: The COT must include an athletic trainer and/or nurse, if employed by the school; a physician, to the extent practicable; and an individual who is responsible for implementing and complying with the return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols adopted by the COT.
    • Protocols: The COT must establish two protocols. The protocols must be based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence consistent with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
      • Return-to-Play Protocol: Determines when a student may return to practice or competition after a concussion.
      • Return-to-Learn Protocol: Determines when a student may return to the classroom after a concussion.
  • Pre-Participation Student & Parent Consent: To participate in an interscholastic athletic activity, the student and the student’s parent must sign an IHSA-approved consent form that includes the specified concussion information. IHSA has a form available on its website. Our firm has not reviewed this form.
  • Removal of a Student from an Interscholastic Athletics Practice or Competition: A student must be removed from an interscholastic athletics practice or competition when any one of the following individuals believes the student might have sustained a concussion during the practice or competition: coach, physician, game official, athletic trainer, student’s parent, student, or any other person deemed appropriate under the school’s return-to-play protocol.
  • Requirements for the Return of a Student Removed from an Interscholastic Athletics Activity to Practice or Competition: A student may not return to an interscholastic athletics practice or competition after a concussion until certain statutory requirements are met. (Note: Coaches of an interscholastic athletic activity are specifically prohibited from authorizing a student to return to play after a concussion.)
  • Return of a Student who Suffered a Concussion Not the Result of an Interscholastic Athletics Practice or Competition: The law appears to apply broadly to all concussions, whether or not the concussion was sustained while the student was participating in an interscholastic athletic activity or at school or at a school function. In these situations, the law authorizes the COT to establish the same return-to-learn protocol as used for students who sustain a concussion during an interscholastic athletic activity. Additionally, the school should follow the return-to-play requirements for students who participate in an interscholastic athletic activity and seek to return to that activity after sustaining a concussion outside of the activity.
  • Return-to-Learn Protocol: As discussed above, the return-to-learn protocol applies whether or not the concussion was sustained while the student was participating in an interscholastic athletic activity. The new law is silent regarding what the return-to-learn protocol must contain. The COT will need to specify the requirements for returning to the classroom as part of the return-to-learn protocol.
  • Training: Training requirements depend on the position held by the individual.
    • Coaches, game officials, and nurses must take a training course at least once every 2 years and must submit proof of completion. Training for coaches and game officials must be in accordance with the law and must be IHSA-approved.
    • Physicians and athletic trainers also must take concussion-related training consistent with the law.
    • A physician, athletic trainer, or nurse who is not in compliance with the training requirements cannot serve on the COT.
    • Training must be completed for the first time no later than September 1, 2016; however, we note that concussion awareness training requirements pursuant to the 2014 law are currently in effect. IHSA will be updating its training to comply with the 2-hour requirement.
  • Emergency Action Plan (“EAP”): School boards and the governing body of charter schools and private schools must develop a school-specific emergency action plan (“EAP”) for interscholastic athletic activities that meets certain statutory requirements. IHSA has an EAP template available on its website. Our firm has not reviewed it.
  • Designated Individual & Supervisor: The new law requires the identification of an individual responsible for compliance with the return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols. That individual must be supervised by the Superintendent, chief school administrator, or designee.

The IASB published a Checklist for Youth Sports Concussion Safety Act for school districts. Additional concussion resources are available on the IHSA website.

Contact Jennifer Mueller or Stephanie Jones with your inquiries regarding the new concussion law.

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