KBS Reference Desk: Student athlete legislative updates

Q:        We’re gearing up for fall athletics and the start of the new school year. Are there any legislative updates pertaining to student-athletes we need to know about before our kids return?

A:        Yes, there are two noteworthy pieces of legislation you should be aware of: (1) House Bill 961, which expands the authority of school nurses to address concussions; and (2) House Bill 76, which gives high school student-athletes the right to obtain an electrocardiogram (“EKG”) with their required UIL physical, and/or information related to sudden-cardiac arrest and the optional screening.

School safety was at the forefront of this legislative session, and the safety of student-athletes was no exception. As your district gears up for the start of the school year, you should be aware of two noteworthy pieces of legislation: (1) House Bill 961, which increases the role of school nurses in addressing concussions; and (2) House Bill 76, which sets forth new requirements aimed at preventing incidents of cardiac arrest among student-athletes. Both bills take effect at the beginning of the upcoming 2019-2020 school year. 

House Bill 961 promotes the safety of student-athletes by giving school nurses greater authority to address concussions sustained during interscholastic activities. In particular, a school nurse may now elect to serve on the district’s concussion oversight team, which is the entity responsible for developing return-to-play protocols. In light of this change, the district’s concussion oversight team will now consist of at least one licensed physician, one or more athletic trainers employed by the district, if any, and a school nurse upon his or her request. The team should also include one or more advanced practice nurse, neuropsychologist, and neuropsychologist “to the greatest extent practicable.” See Tex. Educ. Code. § 38.154. As is required of other concussion team members, if a school nurse wishes to serve on the concussion oversight team, he or she must receive training from an authorized provider at least once every two years in accordance with Section 38.158 of the Texas Education Code.

In addition to the ability to help develop the return-to-play protocols through membership on the concussion oversight team, House Bill 961 also tasks school nurses with the implementation of those protocols. A critical component will be adding ‘school nurse’ to the list of those whose professional opinion may trigger a student’s removal from play.  Section 38.156 of the Texas Education Code requires the immediate removal of a student from play in an athletic practice or competition if a coach, physician, licensed health care professional (meaning advanced practice nurse), parent, or chiropractor believes the student may be concussed. House Bill 961 now adds school nurses to that list of observers triggering removal. Thus, if a school nurse suspects a student may have sustained a concussion during practice or competition, the student must be removed from play immediately.

Another piece of legislation, House Bill 76, seeks to protect student-athletes from sudden-cardiac arrest through an emphasis on preventative screenings and increased awareness. To that end, Section 33.096 of the Education Code now provides high school students with the right to obtain an EKG as part of the annual physical examination required to participate in athletic activities sponsored or sanctioned by the UIL. Districts must also provide these student-athletes with information about cardiac arrest as well as their right to request the optional EKG screening from a licensed health care practitioner. It is expected that the UIL will provide additional guidance addressing the particulars of these requirements, as well as possible notice templates, along with procedures related to their implementation. In the meantime, contact your local school attorney with any questions that may arise pertaining to House Bills 961 and 76 and your athletic program.