The state Departments of Public Health and Education have issued new expanded guidelines for dealing with students who may have concussions.

The Iowa Legislature passed a law in 2011 that dictated how concussions should be handled for students participating in sports, dance, or cheerleading in 7th through 12th grades. The Health Department’s Brain Injury Program coordinator, Maggie Ferguson, says the new expanded guidelines are trying to make sure all students get attention.

“The focus has previously really been on the student athlete, but we want to highlight the fact that these kids are students first. And so we need to be looking at returning them to the classroom before returning them to the playing field,” Ferguson explains. She says the new concussion guidelines cover students of any age.

“So, it’s not just those high school athletes that we’ve addressed in the concussion law,” Ferguson says, “but any student regardless of their age and affiliation with sports. Because they might get hurt on the playground, riding their bike at home, they could be involved in car crash.” Ferguson says they are using a model developed in Colorado called REAP.

“Which stands for Remove and Reduce, Educate, Adjust, Accommodate and Pace. And we’ve expended this out, it has a team approach so we’re looking at the family team, we’re looking at a school academic team, a school athletic team and also the medical team. And by pulling those folks together will have a very holistic look at the students,” Ferguson says. She says using a community approach makes sure they see students in a wide view.

Ferguson says schools may sometimes not know what is going on in the home, or the medical issues and how it impacts on learning. so bringing them all together will best support the student. She says if they find issues, they will take action to first ensure the student can handle their academic work.

“They might need some adjustments to their academic day, and then once they are back to fully functioning where they were before within the classroom — then we can start looking at implementing a return to play,” Ferguson says. “So really — it’s return to learn — and then return to play.”

Ferguson says once diagnosed, dealing with a concussion is not a difficult process.

“The majority of concussions are going to resolve within the first couple of weeks, so that’s the good news,” Ferguson says. “But for those students who may have some lingering affects of their concussions, then we need to have further discussion about what kind of accommodation may be need to be put in place.”

The new concussion guidelines go into place for this school year. The Iowa Departments of Education and Public Health strongly encourage the use of these concussion management guidelines — but they are voluntary and each individual school must make the decision to use them.

Learn more about the guidelines at the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website.