Local: Education

Montgomery looks at new concussion tests for student athletes

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Local,Maryland,Education,Lisa Gartner

Montgomery County Public Schools hopes to create a systemwide program to test for concussions in student athletes, following years of requests from concerned parents.

Superintendent Joshua Starr told the school board Tuesday that he was convening a work group to create a request for proposal for vendors to run the program.

"The long-term effects of concussions and head injuries are being discussed across the country and are the subject of a growing body of research," Starr said. "I think we must explore [this] as part of our ongoing efforts to keep our student athletes safe and healthy."

Called "baseline testing," the exams are given to students during the preseason to assess their brain function, from their learning and memory skills to their ability to concentrate and their speed at problem-solving. These tests can be compared to new brain scans after an athlete is suspected of having sustained a concussion and can aid doctors in determining when a student has recovered enough to return to the field.

Starr said the work group, which will meet in the next few weeks, will explore whether baseline testing will be optional for students, which sports it will apply to and whether the results will be required when returning students to play.

Nine MCPS high schools already offer baseline testing but must pay for their own programs. Starr said a funding source for the testing program would have to be found before it could become a reality -- not an easy step at a time when Montgomery County, the schools' primary funder, struggles to meet basic state-mandated per-pupil funding. A spokesman for the school system could not estimate how much of a budgetary impact the testing program would have.

In 2011, a 2007 Northwest High School graduate died about a week after passing out during a normal football practice at Frostburg State University. His father said doctors said it was due to head trauma.

One parent advocating for changes, Thomas Hearn, said his child suffered a concussion last year while playing football for Walt Whitman High School. He wants the district to also consider hiring athletic trainers at each high school.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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