Schools consider concussion testing

by nathan oster

A physician and the director of nursing at Midway Clinic urged the Big Horn County School District No. 3 board of trustees on Thursday to participate in a concussion testing program that would make it easier to diagnose the severity of head injuries and help physicians determine when it is safe for students to return to normal activity.

Dr. Dusty Hill and Jim Thomas, who have both been on the job when kids with concussions have been brought in, described the problem of head injuries as one that is gaining attention nationally and isn’t likely to improve unless proactive steps are taken.

“And I’m talking athletes and non-athletes alike,” Hill told the board.

Hill said he first approached school administration with his concerns about a year ago — and they haven’t abated. He is more in favor of concussion testing than ever, he said. “We’ve had four concussions on the football team this year, and there were a number last year too. There was one volleyball, another involving a kid who was hurt in PE.”

All the testing would be done on a computer, and Hill said his recommendation would be to give every student in middle and high school the opportunity to take a “baseline” test on the computer, lasting approximately 45 minutes. If the student were to suffer a head injury, those “baseline” scores would prove invaluable, he said.

“We could run a kid through the test and see how he grades out,” said Hill. “It’s not a final or an absolutely, but it’s a tool that health care providers can utilize, as well as administrators and coaches, to say whether a kid is ready to go back, whether they are an athlete or not.

“From a physician’s standpoint, I can tell you that our hands our tied. If a kid gets a concussion and I’m evaluating that kid five to 10 days later, 90 percent of the information I’m using is based on history gathering and how he’s answering my questions. These concussion tests are a tool that can give you a quantitative assessment aside from just a qualitative assessment.”

Thomas called concussions “the most abused term in the medical language.” In the past, they were graded by severity, with 1 being the least severe, 4 the most severe. Four million times a year in the U.S., a concussion is diagnosed, he said. “Last week there were four deaths on the football field,” said Hill. “This is just an extra tool for us to utilize.”

Thomas added that the computerized test would “take the monkey off the back of coaches” in that it is “totally objective.” The program is mandatory for players in the NFL and NHL and is likely to be soon for college athletes as well.

Thomas said concussions impact school performance and often times bring about behavioral changes. The biggest concern, he said, are “cumulative” concussions, noting that kids who get concussed and don’t let it heal completely are more likely get another that is far worse in severity. Eventually it lead to CTE, a condition that is common among former football players and boxers.

The three sports in which kids are most likely to get a concussion are football, soccer and competitive cheerleading, Thomas said.

Turning to cost and specifics, Thomas said anyone who has ever run a computerized test can administer the “baseline” tests, which typically take about 45 minutes. The information produced by that testing then goes into a nationwide data bank that physicians can access when the child is brought to the emergency room with a head injury.

While many companies offer concussion testing, ImPACT seems to be the one most schools are using, said Thomas. One package priced at $400 would enable to school district to do baseline tests on 100 students and provide for 15 acute care tests.

Hill said it would cost the district between $600 and $700 to make testing available to all middle and high school students. The district couldn’t require students to take the test, but it could offer it to them as a service.

Hill said a number of Wyoming schools in the northern part of the state are doing some kind of concussion testing.   By acting proactively, “we can pick (a program) of our choosing, instead of having the feds stuff one down our throats two years from now,” he said.

Supt. Barry Bryant said the cost of the testing “isn’t that big of a deal, where we have had a difference of opinion is on who tests the child.” Bryant said he would want all liability removed from the school district, and particularly from coaches and administrators who might be perceived to have a vested interest in the results of the testing, and asked if someone from Midway might be willing to oversee the testing.

Hill and Thomas said that would be a possibility, but stopped short of committing. Thomas maintained throughout that “anyone” could administer the test; it wouldn’t have to be a physician or a trained medical professional. Bryant said his opposition to the testing would end if Midway took the lead on testing.

School board members directed Bryant to research what other districts in the state are doing with respect to concussion testing and to explore specifics on the costs of the ImPACT testing programs. Hill emphasized throughout that the district should offer the testing to every student, not just athletes.


Other business

In other business Thursday night:

  • Calder Forcella, president of the GHS student body, told the board that 76 percent of GHS students attended the recent homecoming dance and that the next big event on the horizon in Red Ribbon Week in late October.
  • In the administrative reports section, all three building principals discussed recent parent-teacher conference attendance rates, after school participation and upcoming events.

GES Principal Brett Suiter said enrollment stood at 230 and that the fourth grade “continues to grow.” It is the largest class in the school, with 44 students. Fifty six GES students are receiving reading and math interventions, and 95 percent of parents attended conferences. Suiter said he’s excited about “Muffins for Mom,” a parent involvement activity planned for the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 22.

GMS Principal Scott McBride said there’s been a big increase in parents accessing PowerSchool. Speaking of conferences, he said 60 percent of parents attended. If you count contact prior to the conferences, the number rises to 80 percent. McBride said the number of students being asked to stay late on Friday afternoons has also dropped.

GHS Principal Ty Flock said “more students are getting off Buff Time” as well, an encouraging sign. Fifty-four percent of parents attended conferences.

Director of Special Services Lee Clucas reported that 90 students are receiving services at the present time. Included in that total are 14 students who moved into the district this year.

Sara Schlattmann, the director of curriculum and grants, said climate surveys are underway and that the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables program is again up and running at the elementary school, thanks to volunteers. Some additional help is needed if anyone would like to volunteer, she said.

BOCES is bringing a Shakespeare in the Schools event to Greybull schools on Thursday, Oct. 30. Their appearance will include a 9 a.m. performance and two workshops at both GHS and GMS.

Supt. Barry Bryant announced that a strategic planning session is planned for Saturday, Nov. 15, starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 2 p.m.

  • The board approved on second reading policies dealing with sex offenders on school property. Tracy Copenhaver, the school district’s attorney, recommended the new policy, and the district used one he provided to the state school board association as a model policy.

The new policy would require registered sex offenders requesting permission to be on school property under conditions not already specified under state law to have written permission.

“In compliance with this law,” the policy reads, “registered sex offenders seeking written permission to be on school property, or to attend a school event located elsewhere, are required to submit (a form) to the appropriate principal no later than three days in advance of the date he or she is requesting.

“A reply to this written request will be given prior to the requested date. Only the superintendent may grant permission for this request after consulting with the appropriate principal.”

  • The board accepted the resignation of Maryjean Morris, who had been working in food service.
  • The board made a tweak to the school handbook so it more closely aligns with school policy giving principals addition discretion about pulling students out of class when drug dogs hit on their lockers.