Milford school leaders are considering a tough new policy on concussions that would bench student athletes for up to a year if they experience a series of mild concussions, or a single severe concussion.
The effort is made to comply with a new state law, which requires school systems in Massachusetts to adopt a policy on identifying and responding to student athlete concussions by March 1.
No policy is now in effect, said Superintendent Robert Tremblay, after the School Committee discussed the issue Thursday.
Emerging research on concussions has raised additional concern about the cumulative impact of a head injury that can have debilitating effects over time. Although contact sports, such as football, are the most common source of injury, the Milford policy would cover all athletics.
The first draft at a policy — recommended by a 10-member committee including athletic trainers, nurses, doctors and counselors — outlined steps for responding to a first concussion, including treatment and contacting parents. If an athlete sustained a second concussion that year, they would be sidelined from sports for the rest of the calendar year, unless a licensed neurologist cleared them for play.
The issue of whether parents should have to consult with a neurologist, rather than simply a physician, led to debate among School Committee members about whether the requirement for a specialist was too restrictive. The debate prompted Milford pediatrician Dr. Felix Perriello, one of the committee members, to disclose that he felt the initial draft wasn't strong enough.
"It doesn't go far enough," he said. "Our job is to protect student athletes from injury, but also neurological [damage] that may happen over the next decades."
Perriello advocated for a policy that would sideline athletes based on the number and severity of concussions. His recommendation: student athletes will be prevented from participating in any sport for the rest of the calendar year if they have three minor concussions, two moderate concussions or one severe concussion at any point during a season. Physicians use a specific scale to determine the severity of concussions, he explained.
"What we don't want is people getting to be 50 years old and having headaches and difficulty sleeping" and other problems associated with concussions, he said.
Committee members agreed to cast aside the initial recommendation, and move ahead on the more restrictive policy suggested by Perriello. The policy will come back before the committee this month for a second reading, further discussion, and a vote.
Several committee members said their greatest concern is students trying to hide injuries, for fear of being benched for the rest of the year. "Students are smart," said . "I know 11-year-olds who, if their head hurts after a game, will not say anything."