Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill on Thursday morning that updated the state’s existing concussion law in the hopes of better protecting Iowa high school athletes.
House File 2442 requires brain injury policies for certain extracurricular interscholastic activities and includes applicability provisions.
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The new law requires return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols to be used by all Iowa high schools. It also creates incentives, through decreased legal liability, for high schools to provide a healthcare professional on the sidelines for contact sports.
“It builds on the existing (practices),” said Brad Floy, president of the Iowa Athletic Trainers’ Society, who has worked on the bill for the last four years. “… We’ve been trying to get this passed for four or five years, and it finally came to fruition.”
The bill passed in the Iowa House on April 10, 96-2, and in the Iowa Senate on April 12, 46-0.
What are ‘return-to-play’ and ‘return-to-learn’ protocols?
Return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols help ease concussed athletes back into their respective sport and learning environments. Baseline (or pre-injury) testing is often used. Baseline testing is a preseason exam conducted by a trained health care professional. Results can be used and compared to a similar exam conducted if an athlete has a suspected concussion.
The bill puts a research-based system in place in an attempt to better protect athletes after a concussion.
“The existing law said that a healthcare provider just had to clear them,” Floy said. “There’s a little bit of grey area in that and there’s a lot of differences between different providers, so (the law) establishes some protocols that schools have to adapt to so
that it’s a lot safer and a more-scheduled return, not only for sports, which we all know is important, but also in return to academics, return to school.
“A lot of times, following a concussion or a head injury, student-athletes struggle academically, too. Building that into the law is a huge addition to the overall safety of the student-athletes — not just in sports, but caring for their brain and in academics as well.”
Concussions have become something of a scarlet letter in sports, as they are thought to be one of the causes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — or “CTE” — a degenerative brain disease that stems from repetitive blows to the head. It is often associated with football.
Floy said the new law which codifies practices that have been used in collegiate athletics for upwards of five years, are a step in the right direction in protecting Iowa prep athletes.
Local coaches agree.
“Anything that can be done to bring education and awareness of concussions is a positive,” said Tom Wilson, the head football coach and athletic director at Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines. “What this does is give a consistent standard that everyone must follow.”
Incentive for more healthcare providers
The other change the law brings is the reduction in liability costs for high schools that provide a healthcare professional, such as an athletic trainer or physician, on the sidelines of contests for contact and limited-contact sports.
Floy said this is primarily targeted at rural schools that may struggle financially when it comes to sports.
“A lot of rural schools may not have the money or the healthcare providers in their area available to work or cover some contests, practices or games for their student-athletes,” Floy said. “If the schools actually hire somebody, their liability is reduced if any injuries occur.
“The other part with that, a lot of providers want to volunteer their time, so somebody’s dad, uncle, mom is a physician or an athletic trainer, and they’re putting their own liability on the line, and this law waives their liability if they want to volunteer their services for a school district.”
“The main goal is to try and get more healthcare providers providing coverage so we can have a safer environment for student-athletes.”
Floy said there are no extra mandates in terms of cost.
“We tried to come up with a bill that didn’t have a cost to it as well as provide some incentives for school districts to do it, too,” Floy said. “We finally got to the point where it’s agreeable by virtually everybody. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.
“We would’ve loved to have had this a few years earlier, but better now than never.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.