Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Updates Concussion Policy

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District school board is fine-tuning the concussion policy for all student athletes. Members have been discussing the slight changes since August and action from the board is expected next month.

The district goes to great lengths to make sure student athletes and their parents are aware of the potential dangers. The rules in place for the athletic departments require training for coaches, refresher courses every three years and ensuring all equipment is in good condition.

The district educates its own staff as well and that includes the school board. Board Vice President Liz Downing said in a previous interview that component came from the state level a few years ago and brought a more defined policy with it.

“If a student has any possibility of having a concussion, they’re off the field. They are tested. I also serve on the wellness committee for the district and it is critical that we have safety measures in place with the padding and equipment. And then also with follow up, and making sure that students have adequate medical care if something should happen,” Downing said.

She said this is a policy the district is always looking at because new examples and research come out all the time. Board President Joe Arness said the members are always willing to listen to people with concerns to make sure the policy protects students while not hindering play.

“You do hear these conversations from time to time and there is concern. Any kind of sport, basketball, soccer, football, hockey, any of them, kids can get injured. To some extent that’s just part of life. To some extent we have a responsibility to do our best to see to it that injuries don’t happen just out of carelessness,” Arness said.

The main change deals with what happens after it’s suspected a student has a concussion. The district and state of Alaska will both require a student to be given permission to come back and play by a “qualified person.” A doctor has always been under that umbrella, but now the legislature will allow athletic trainers to determine when a student comes back to competition after a concussion. And the district requires a doctor’s release as well in each case.

Concerns about concussions have become a major part of the conversation in the last few years; for football especially. Downing said that concern will likely remain unless there’s a change in the culture of sports.

“One of the areas I would love to see us move towards is more non-competitive, intramural play…. That’s not to take something away from sport. There’s so much that is valuable about being part of a team, by making that extra effort to help your team win. So this is a balancing point,” she said.

The board will finish refining the policy at its meeting in January when members are expected to approve the measure.

Ariel Van Cleave is a reporter for KSTK in Wrangell.

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