Virginia’s Concussion Initiative Strives to Standardize Student Care

To assist school districts in developing concussion protocols that work best for their districts and provide a quality standardized level of student care, the Virginia Concussion Initiative (VCI) was formed.

The initiative’s overarching goal is to support Virginia’s school divisions, helping them develop and implement more effective policies that help not only the students, but also their families on how to better manage concussion when it occurs in a student, explains Shane V. Caswell, PhD, ATC, CSCS Professor, who is heading up the Virginia Concussion Initiative.

In 2014, Virginia lawmakers enacted the Student Athlete Protection Act to ensure that student athletes who sustain concussions are accurately diagnosed, given time to heal, and supported until they are symptom free. The Act required the state’s Board of Education to develop Concussion Guidelines to provide a framework for Virginia’s school districts in managing student concussions. A hallmark effort within this initiative is the Virginia Department of Health-VCI partnership with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to update the 2016 Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) Guidelines for Policies on Concussions in Students. Most recently in 2021, the Guidelines established best practices for concussion recognition and management in school divisions pursuant to House Bill 1930.

“Sometimes we come at it from different perspectives. I’ve seen many instances where the same recommendation from a concussion specialist is interpreted different ways or implemented different ways by different teachers,” says John Reynolds MS, ATC, VATL Athletic Training Program Administrator, Fairfax County Public Schools.

Standardizing the approach to return to play and return to learn are the goals, while being mindful of the fact that different counties in Virginia have access to different resources. The team of experts working on the Virginia Concussion Initiative is developing materials and tools for professionals to use to help students.

“These tool kits are devised around a group of stakeholders in school, from school leaders to schoolteachers, to school-based medical personnel, and also community-based providers, as well as moms and dads and families at home who can learn more from these tools about how to better manage and care for children in the schools who suffer a concussion,” says Dr. Caswell.  “It’s important that we think about concussion, not just from the sporting sense, but from the standpoint of how this injury, this traumatic brain injury is affecting the child’s development, their learning, their social interactions, and that we help to respond accordingly to support their recovery.”