A chin strap secures Alex Fehmel's helmet in place. Shoreham-Wading...

A chin strap secures Alex Fehmel's helmet in place. Shoreham-Wading River girls lacrosse players Fehmel and Clare Blomberg have had concussions, so they now wear foam helmets specially made for them. (April 27, 2011) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The Senate passed a bill Monday night to help public school students with concussions avoid further injury.

The measure would require that public school students who incur concussions or mild traumatic brain injuries stop athletic activity immediately and not be allowed to return until they had been symptom-free for 24 hours. Students would also need approval from a licensed physician before returning to sports or recreation.

The Assembly is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday.

"The measure will establish baseline rules for athletes who have concussions," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City). The new rules will make "people aware that their injury is just as complex as a broken arm or a sprained leg," he said.

Though science is still studying these injuries and their impact, Hannon said there's enough evidence to support taking precautions. "We're far enough along to have some basic minimum rules," he said.

Though targeted to sports, the bill covers injuries that could happen in gym class or even in the hallways.

Traumatic brain injuries caused by sports and recreation lead to nearly 208,000 emergency room visits annually, according to a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children from ages 5 to 18 account for 135,000 of those visits and more than 10,000 of those require hospitalization or further care, the study said.

New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director Nina Van Erk applauded the bill, saying her group has been working to educate people about concussion management for the past five years.

"It provides for ample time for students to recover from this traumatic brain injury," she said. An injured student should not return too soon to competition or athletic activity "because a second impact could be devastating," she said.

Under the measure, public school coaches, nurses and physical education teachers must receive training every other year on how to recognize symptoms of mild traumatic brain injuries and what actions they should take when a student is injured. The state education and health departments will be required to post information on concussions and mild traumatic brain injuries.

The bill would not require athletes to wear helmets. "At the moment, it's not certain that helmets are the be-all and end-all," Hannon said.

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