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Concussion bill aims to ease students back into classroom

• Read The World-Herald's series on concussions in football: Concussions: A Game Changer.

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When a young athlete suffers a concussion today, parents and coaches tend to focus on when the child is ready to return to the field.

But although a concussion is a brain injury, there's often scant attention paid to whether the child is ready to “return to learn'' — or get back to the classroom. Brain-injured students often receive no special accommodations in school, forcing them to tax and strain already-injured brains and perhaps prolonging their recovery.

A bill introduced in the Legislature on Friday would address this overlooked concussion issue. Legislative Bill 782, introduced by State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, would require schools to adopt return-to-learn protocols aimed at easing brain-injured students back into the classroom.

“If they're having difficulty on the field, I guarantee you they're having difficulties in the classroom,'' said Peggy Reisher, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Nebraska. “It needs to be talked about.''

Indeed, youth who suffer concussions often struggle with symptoms that can seriously impair their schoolwork, including headaches, blurred vision and an inability to concentrate or stay on task.

The Nebraska Department of Education over the past year has been working on a model return-to-learn protocol for brain-injured students. The plan seeks to ease students back into the classroom through simple steps like taking breaks during he day, breaking tests into parts or reducing the workload — emphasizing essential material and quality over quantity.

Lathrop's bill essentially would give teeth to the state's plan, requiring schools to adopt some type of protocol.

The bill amends the state's Youth Concussion Act. That law, sponsored by Lathrop three years ago, required schools and youth leagues to give coaches access to education on the seriousness of concussions. It also barred youth athletes suspected of a concussion from returning to the field without approval of a medical professional.

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