School districts put SB80 concussion changes into action

Stella Thornton (left) watches as Gov. Joe Lombardo (seated) signs SB80 during the bill's ceremonial signing in Carson City on Thursday, June 15, 2023.

Stella Thornton (left) watches as Gov. Joe Lombardo (seated) signs SB80 during the bill's ceremonial signing in Carson City on Thursday, June 15, 2023.
Carly Sauvageau/The Nevada Independent

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Nevada school districts have begun adopting policy changes regarding the management of student head injuries and concussions based on Senate Bill 80 signed into law last year.

The school boards from Carson City and Lyon County school districts on June 25, during their respective board meetings, each discussed updates supporting Return to Learn recommendations from the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) and the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association (NIAA) to formalize plans supporting athletes who sustain head trauma during games.

Bill sponsor Stella Thornton, graduate of Carson High School and member of the Nevada Youth Legislature, prompted the changes with her proposal as a student and saw her bill passed and signed by Gov. Joe Lombardo in June 2023.

Carson City Superintendent Andrew Feuling, during CCSD’s Board of Trustees meeting June 25, described Thornton’s academic and legislative process to identify medical and university resources for her research.

“It was a quite a learning experience,” Feuling said. “You have this wonderful idea, and everyone with all these interests come after her. I know it was an intensive process for her, but ultimately her bill was passed.”

Sheila Story, chief nurse for CCSD, said the language requires signatures on a form provided by the NIAA acknowledging the risks to the pupil associated with sports or events and emphasizes training for school employees supporting a student’s academic or physical health who has sustained a head injury.

Lyon County School District board members also met June 25 and approved revisions to its Policy JB — Injuries to the Head to be in compliance with SB80. Trustees favored the recommendations from the NDE and NIAA and received support through public comment. The school board of Southern Nevada’s Esmeralda County School District also brought a first reading of a concussion policy on June 25. The district, with three schools, offers basketball as its sole athletic program.

“Of all my years of coaching youth sports, that’s always been one of the biggest concerns — especially with youth football and soccer — is the head injuries, so to see this thing get put into policy is huge,” Lyon Trustee Neal McIntyre II said.

Thornton now attends the University of Nevada, Reno and still works in its neuromechanics lab with Dr. Nicholas Murray, who mentored her as she refined the bill and worked with legislators.

“I’ve been continuously working even after SB80 was passed with Dr. Murray, who helped me with the process, on a lot of the policies and procedures being put into place, and the concept for school districts to decide whether or not they’d like to use them,” Thornton told the Appeal. “I never just wanted to pass the bill and leave (faculty and students) with the outcome of it, to figure out for themselves the part of why I wanted the bill to happen. We never wanted to be an extra burden, but we wanted to make sure the health and training of these kiddos is first and foremost.”

Thornton still keeps in touch with Adam Hunsaker, Carson High’s athletic trainer, on its reach on campus.

“It’s good to hear stories from the teachers and athletic trainers who have told me they’re starting to see more kids in their offices that they never would have seen before,” Thornton told the Appeal on Wednesday. “I know a little while ago, Adam and I talked at Carson High just about the fact that he is seeing more kids he normally he wouldn’t have seen and helping them more. I think it’s awesome. It’s important that they get the health care they deserve.”

Looking back at the legislative process as a former student and youth legislator, Thornton said she was thankful for all the support from Feuling and Carson High’s staff, among others.

“I really appreciated the fact that he took the time to understand what he was working with and used his time to support one student in a huge school district to make this happen,” she said. “That’s amazing. That shows the power the superintendent has in the district they’re working for and to make it better for all the kiddos.”

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