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New Mass. school policy on concussions helping

FRANKLIN — As the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Medical Director, Dr. Lauren Smith doesn’t want to anyone to misconstrue concussion data.

So when she saw published information comparing high schools, including two in her hometown, she wasn’t happy.

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That was part of the message she brought Thursday to the first meeting of the school year by the MIAA Board of Directors. Starting with a PowerPoint presentation that included information taken from a Boston Globe story on concussions in February, Smith outlined the progress being made and cautioned against using numbers to compare schools.

“I’m not trying to say it’s inaccurate, I’m just saying it’s inappropriate to look at the raw numbers,’’ said Smith. “You need to know the size of the student population and how many kids are playing. We are expecting that initially the numbers might actually increase for a time as people become aware of it. It used to be that people didn’t report this stuff. We’re not looking for a school-by-school comparison.”

But there are numbers. Smith’s presentation indicated 211 schools have submitted final concussion policies and 54 interim policies. And policies still need to be submitted by 24 public school districts, 27 private schools, and 33 charter schools. Fifty-seven schools have submitted head injury data, ranging from zero incidents to 78.

The deadline has passed with many schools missing the end-of-school-year deadline for submitting their concussion policy, but that doesn’t bother Smith.

“I’m really less concerned about that and more on that the policy is in place.”

And one year into the implementing the state concussion law, Smith is happy.

“I think schools have been going a great job. Schools are really putting the effort into doing the best for their student-athletes and have been very dedicated to that,’’ said Smith. “It tells me that people at the schools are really trying to do a good job.”

Brian McCann, principal at Case High School and chairman of the board, pointed to an improvement in communication as one result of the concussion law, passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2010.

“It has really opened up dialogue between athletics and guidance, athletics and the nurse, the nurse and guidance, and the teachers, to really bring the whole village together in the quest to help the child get back on track.” said McCann. “I don’t think we were ever islands, but maybe we didn’t look at the problem of concussion management from that perspective.’’

Smith hopes using the enforcement provisions in the law isn’t necessary. With her visits to the MIAA she hopes the word will get out and every school will respond.

There were other topics on the agenda:

 The board gave unanimous approval to hold the vote for a statewide football playoff system on Oct. 26 at Assabet Valley Regional in Marlboro.

 The future of boys’ gymnastics as an MIAA sport is up in the air after the National High School Federation withdrew formal support of the sport this summer. Massachusetts and Illinois are the only states with recognized boys’ programs. The board talked of voting as soon as its next meeting to drop the sport. The seven schools with boys’ teams could continue, much like schools that have rugby and sailing programs.

 Dartmouth was granted exclusion status. With Taunton moving from the Old Colony League to the Hockomock, just three schools remain in the OCL — Dartmouth, Barnstable, and Bridgewater-Raynham. Barnstable and B-R had already been granted exclusion status. The vote will help Dartmouth with scheduling by allowing other schools to play them but not count the games.

 The Tournament Management Committee voted, 6-2, in June to eliminate the team wrestling tournament, but because there wasn’t a quorum, the board was forced to vote on the issue as well. By a unanimous vote, wrestling’s team tourney was officially eliminated. And girls’ wrestling, which debuts this coming spring as an MIAA sport, got approval to use National Federation rules as modified by the MIAA wrestling committee.

 St. Joseph’s Prep of Brighton was voted full MIAA membership. The school is a combination of Trinity Catholic and Mount St. Joseph’s.

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