Fairfax County parents must complete an online course on concussions before their kids can toss a ball around in the public school system this year.
The 15-slide, pictures-and-text lesson is the latest push by districts across the Washington area to beef up awareness about head trauma after Maryland and Virginia, responding to concerns about injured student-players, passed legislation this year requiring greater publicity of the health risk.
For years, Montgomery County has required parents and coaches to sign a contract and a permission form stating they've received pamphlets from school administrators and reviewed websites about concussions.
Other districts are adjusting their policies to meet new state laws that bench players with symptoms of concussions and require school systems to educate parents and students on the dangers surrounding the common sports injuries.
The Arlington County School Board just imposed a new policy requiring cognitive baseline testing before high school athletes can take the field and training for all staff members involved in sports, along with signed statements and increased monitoring of concussionlike symptoms.
Earl Hawkins, director of interscholastic athletics for Prince George's County Public Schools, said they will also distribute more information to parents and require signatures to seal the deal.
The D.C. Council passed the Athletic Concussion Protection Act of 2011, which would sideline students who show signs of a concussion during school sports.
Fairfax County's new online seminar for parents and student-athletes follows 800 student-athlete concussion cases in the 2010-2011 school year, said Jon Almquist, administrator of the school system's athletic training program. There are more than 25,000 student-athletes in the district.
While the safety push may protect schools from parental lawsuits, Almquist said most threats have come from parents who want their injured children to play. "We don't get nearly as many threats now, because people are understanding the dangers of concussions," he said.
A Prince William County student's suicide last school year was linked to a suspected concussion from playing football, and other high-profile cases connecting the brain damage to suicidal tendencies have troubled researchers.
A brain autopsy on Owen Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania football player who took his own life in April, revealed he had the beginnings of a trauma-induced disease found in more than 20 deceased professional athletes and linked to depression and impulse control.