What is Virginia’s School Concussion Protocol?

Stephen M. Smith
Last Updated:
December 2, 2019

In past decades schools and colleges knew little about concussions. Players who suffered head injuries were allowed to carry on with their sport. This is no longer the case. Virginia’s school concussion protocol is very strict and important to student welfare.

At the Smith Law Center and Brain Injury Law Center, our attorneys are leaders in brain injury litigation. We are acutely aware of the seriousness of a concussion and the impacts a blow to the head on the sporting field can have on your life.

Guidelines, policies, and procedures on concussions suffered by student-athletes are set out in § 22.1-271.5 of Virginia code.

The legislation states The Virginia Board of Education must develop and biennially update guidelines that are distributed to each local school division. Its members must develop policies to inform and educate coaches, student-athletes, and the parents or guardians of student-athletes about the risk of concussions, their nature, and criteria to remove a student from the field of play as well as the return of the student.

These policies must stress the risks inherent in not reporting the concussion injury and playing on, as well as the effects of concussions on the academic performance of student-athletes.

Virginia’s school concussion protocol recognizes the danger of continuing to play if you suffered a concussion. Research in the journal Pediatrics revealed players who are not removed when they suffer a concussion can take twice as long to recover. The study stated 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur every year in the United States.

Virginia requires each local school division to develop policies and procedures on the handling of suspected concussions in student-athletes and to update them every two years.

The policy states the student-athlete and his or her parent or guardian should review the policies every year before taking part in sports.

After reviewing materials relating to both the short and long-term health effects of concussions, each student-athlete and his or her parent or guardian must sign a statement acknowledging receipt of the information as approved by the Board of Education.

Should Student-Athletes Be Removed from Play Under Virginia’s School Concussion Protocol?

Yes. The laws require a student-athlete to be removed from the activity he or she is playing if the student-athlete's coach, trainer, or team doctor suspects a concussion or brain injury in a practice or a game. When a student-athlete is removed from play, checked out by a medical professional and suspected of suffering from a concussion or a brain injury, the player cannot return to the field on the same day. The athlete must be evaluated by a licensed health care provider as determined by the Board of Education and receive written clearance to return to play from the licensed health care provider.

The legislation states the licensed health care provider who evaluates student-athletes suspected of sustaining head injuries may be a volunteer.

A “return to learn protocol” can be issued to athletes with the following requirements:

School staff should be aware of possible academic and cognitive issues stemming from a concussion including:

  • Concentration issues
  • Sensitivity to bright lights and sounds
  • Speech and language problems
  • Issues with planning, problem-solving, and reasoning

Faculty should allow for the “gradual return to full participation in academic activities” of a student who sustained a concussion or another head injury based on the recommendation of the student's doctor on the appropriate amount of time the student should be away from the classroom.

Virginia’s school concussion protocol extends to sports clubs that use school premises. They should establish policies and procedures relating to the highlighting and handling of suspected concussions in student-athletes, consistent with the policies and procedures of the local school division.

Virginia school divisions can provide the guidelines to organizations sponsoring athletic activities for student-athletes on school grounds. Local school divisions are not be required to enforce compliance with such policies.

The Commonwealth takes a strong stance on the issue of concussions. Legislation signed into law in 2019 requires the Virginia Board of Education to work with brain-injury and other experts to biennially update state concussion guidelines.

Untreated concussions can leave athletes with serious brain injuries. It’s vital to keep athletes who sustained a concussion out of action. If your concussion was not taken seriously or you were not removed from an athletic activity, you may have grounds to sue a school, college or sports club. Please contact the Smith Law Center today at (757) 244-7000. We have won over $1 billion in verdicts and settlement for clients, many of them brain injury victims.

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