Health & Science

Bill Would Regulate Concussion Treatment in Public Schools

The Texas Legislature is considering a bill that spells out how public schools must treat students who suffer a concussion. If it passes, the law would require that after a concussion, an athlete must rest for at a day and be examined by a doctor. KUHF health science and technology reporter Carrie Feibel talks about who is behind the bill, and why.

The bill’s sponsor is State Senator Bob Deuell, who’s also a family doctor outside Dallas. Deuell says he’s seen plenty of concussions among patients, and has worked as a team doctor for various sports.

“What I found was there was no uniform way of dealing with it. It seemed to be just different in every school, every school district.”

Deuell’s bill would bench the athlete after a concussion for at least 24 hours. The athlete must also visit with a concussion management team put together by the school. The team must include at least one doctor, although athletic trainers and other health professionals could also be on the team.

“It’s gonna show the parents that there’s a protocol, and it’s gonna relieve the educators of perhaps making an uninformed decision.”

Dr. Summer Ott is a neuropsychologist and co-director of the Methodist Concussion Center in Houston. She testified in favor of the bill and says young people can suffer permanent brain damage if a concussion is not treated correctly. 

“The person that returns to play too soon will often have headaches that last many, many weeks and they may often have very apparent cognitive issues where they can’t remember, they can’t focus, they have sleep deficits.”

Ott especially likes the requirement that the concussion team create a step-by-step plan to ease the athlete back into competition.

“I’ll take the example of a soccer player. We see a lot of soccer players here. We start having them head the soccer ball again or as the goalies start diving for balls, and symptoms come back with contact. So certainly, as we’re testing the waters, if that happens, we want to pull the athlete and have them wait again until they become symptom free before putting them out in the game.”

Ott recently treated Carli Slovacek, a sophomore at Dickinson High School. Slovacek is a volleyball player, but she got her concussion during a fundraising event, playing powder-puff football.

“We were both running full force and we kinda just like collided and I flew off my feet and landed on my head. My vision just went black and I had a lot of pressure on my head and my jaws were real tight. It was just overwhelming.”

Slovacek felt better over the weekend, but her headaches returned when she went back to school on Monday. Sounds were too loud and the lights dazed her. Ott says that’s fairly typical, and she ordered Slovacek to attend school on half-day schedule.

“And athletes that do that usually get better more quickly whenever they are resting with both mental tasks as well as physical tasks.”

Carli’s mother Teresa Slovacek says she liked how carefully the Dickinson coaches handled her daughter’s injury. But she wants the bill to become law, so that all school districts use the same system to protect student athletes.

“You know, a lot of coaches really want to get their athletes back in the swing of things, you know, but their health comes first.”

The bill has passed a House committee vote but still needs a full vote in the House and Senate. At first, the bill applied to all Texas schools, but the most recent version exempts private schools.

From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.