Recent high-profile incidents of concussions, including professional hockey player Sidney Crosby's concussion in January 2011 and long recovery, have shone the spotlight on the dangers of such injuries. On March 6, 2012, Ontario's Minister of Education, Laurel Broten, introduced new legislation which proposes to create new obligations for school boards to develop policies and guidelines respecting concussions and head injuries.
Recent research shows that since 2003 – 2004, emergency room visits for concussions have increased by 58 percent. In 2010 - 2011, 19,880 Ontario residents visited an emergency room for a concussion, with children accounting for nearly 38 percent of those visits. It should be noted that Ontario is the first province in Canada to introduce comprehensive legislation on concussions in schools.
Bill 39, the Education Amendment Act (Concussions), 2012, proposes to add a new section on concussions in Part XIII.1 of Ontario's Education Act. The main intent of the new section is three-fold:
- the prevention of head injuries;
- the identification of symptoms of concussion; and
- the management of concussions.
To fulfill these objectives, Bill 39 authorizes the Minister of Education to make regulations governing all aspects of head injuries and concussions in pupils. Bill 39 also authorizes the Minister to establish and require school boards to comply with policies and guidelines respecting head injuries and concussions in pupils, including policies and guidelines respecting:
a) the distribution of information to pupils, parents, guardians, board employees and volunteers about the prevention of head injuries, the identification of symptoms of concussions and the management of concussions;
b) when a pupil who is suspected of having sustained a concussion is to be removed from or prevented from further participating in intramural or inter-school athletics or any part of the health and physical education curriculum;
c) the return of a pupil who has or may have sustained a concussion to intramural or inter-school athletics or to any part of the health and physical education curriculum, or his or her return to learning; and
d) the responsibilities of board employees, classes of board employees, or other persons who are involved in intramural or inter-school athletics or any part of the health and physical education curriculum in relation to the prevention of head injuries, the identification of symptoms of concussions and the management of concussions.
School boards, in turn, must establish policies and guidelines respecting head injuries and concussions involving students that are consistent with, and address, the Minister's policies, guidelines and regulations. Bill 39 also provides that board employees and volunteers involved in listed activities will not be personally liable in a proceeding if they act reasonably in the circumstances, in good faith, and in accordance with applicable legislation, policies, guidelines and regulations.
Details of the specific requirements for compliance have not yet been released by the Ministry of Education. We do not anticipate such requirements to be released until after the legislation comes into force.
In the meantime, the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association ("OPHEA"), a not-for-profit organization that has published the widely used Physical Education Safety Guidelines, has released Concussion Protocols for Teachers and Coaches. OPHEA's Concussion Protocols are a useful resource in the development of policies and guidelines respecting concussions and head injuries. ThinkFirst (Canada), a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of brain and spinal cord injuries, is another organization that has been cited by the Ontario Government as having helpful resources on concussions and head injuries.
Some school boards, school associations and interested parties, such as sports organizations, have already taken steps to proactively develop and/or reevaluate their policies and guidelines around concussions and head injuries. While Bill 39 is not yet in force, it is nonetheless appropriate now to plan for, implement and/or update policies and guidelines respecting concussions and head injuries. Such policies and guidelines can be further updated as necessary when specific requirements are provided by the Ministry.
Bill 39 is part of a broader strategy that will:
- provide resources to parents, teachers and school staff about the seriousness of concussions;
- build awareness beyond schools about the dangers of concussions and how they should be managed; and
- establish a committee to provide advice on concussion prevention, identification and management in schools and to study how evidence-based resources can be best used.
Other Canadian jurisdictions are also considering policies and guidelines respecting concussions and head injuries. British Columbia, for instance, is reviewing possible concussion legislation – Bill M 206, Concussions in Youth Sport Safety Act. While each jurisdiction may implement its own legislation and requirements, it can never be too early for schools and school boards to establish and/or update such policies and guidelines.About BLG
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