Even though there are ongoing language clarifications in state law on high school activities concussion requirements, the Juneau School District unanimously passed guidelines that follow the law.
The state Legislature last year approved a law — effective this year — that required specific guidelines of school district’s in how they handle concussions.
One sticking point, which is currently back in the Legislature, is that the law states students can’t come back into play without approval from a physician who is “certified in concussion management.”
There is no universal certification for that in this state.
“A year ago (the) Legislature passed a law providing for specific guidelines on when a student athlete could return to the field for practice or competition if they had suffered a concussion,” said Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich. “Clearly the motive for this is about student safety. The challenge has been part of the legislative requirement. ... It basically requires us to do something we can’t do with anyone in Alaska. So lots and lots of people have been working with legislators to craft language that is consistent with the intent of this, in a way that’s doable. The language of that legislation has made serious progress. The one problem is there is some language attached to this that is more controversial.”
Gelbrich didn’t get into specifics of what that other language entails.
Board member Barbara Thurston was concerned about what the implications of passing it with the unclear language would be.
Gelbrich said the guidelines are already in place — and were back at the start of school athletics this year — and that the district guidelines don’t specify that a physician must clear a student. He said the guidelines outline the process for taking a student out of play — and putting them back in.
Board member Mark Choate was supportive of approving the guidelines, saying the state recommendations don’t go far enough because of how serious head injuries can be.
He suggested the district work on formulating a policy and training by a certified personal trainer who would train coaches or other staff in creating a baseline evaluation of a student athlete. That kind of policy and procedure would be able to evaluate where a student is at, and give staff a way to better evaluate if there is an injury concern with a student.
Choate referenced a county in California that has had to pay out $5 million to a family because of an incident that left a student completely bed-ridden, unable to do anything other than breathe on his own. Choate said the district doesn’t ever want to be in that situation.
Mendenhall River Community School nurse Maureen Hall said that any physician with a medical degree should be competent enough to evaluate concussions. She said the idea of a certified athletic trainer could work, however she’d want to see more research into that idea since they would need a neuropsychologist to analyze the results.
The board also unanimously passed the contract for busing students with First Students.
“How do we know this is the lowest cost option?” asked Choate. “$3 million is a lot of money. I can’t help but wondering, if we’re asking everybody to take cuts here, if there’s something we can do with the city and the city transportation.”
Gelbrich said this five-year contract proposal is an effort in cost containment.
“The current market is not competitive at all,” he said. “It’s even less competitive in Southeast. Our concern is if we wait, we will end up paying significantly more down the road.”
Gelbrich said they are still investigating whether a partnership with the city could work, however that process is more complicated in light of a New York lawsuit case that prohibited some public and civic transportation replacing school transportation.
Gelbrich said there are new federal guidelines as a result of that case.
“It’s an idea that has potential,” he said. “We’re going to continue to explore the possibilities with Kim Kiefer, the new city manager. We don’t see the ability to reduce our costs here. We’re trying to contain the growth of the costs.”
The board also unanimously passed a contract extension for food service to NANA Management Services.
It serves 1,500 meals a day, plus ala carte options at the high schools. District Director of Administrative Services David Means said that when the company first began contracting with the district, meal counts doubled and have gone up every year until last year. Means said that the decrease last year was likely due to increased meal costs — which were required by federal guidelines in the Health Kids Act.
Board members generally praised the options NANA provides — whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, introducing Alaska salmon.
“The meal progression, it’s amazing,” said Board Member Sean O’Brien. “My kid, who claims he hates fruits and vegetables, is out hitting the salad bar. I think he eats more good stuff at school than he does at home and we have it.”
O’Brien, who has graduated several of his own children through the district and has several more still going, said he’s seen the progression in the last six or seven years to what’s offered and what students eat and it’s improved.
“I like some of the reinforcement from state and federal level,” O’Brien said. “We know we have an epidemic in obesity and poor eating habits.”
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.