“Return-to-Learn” State Laws for Students with Traumatic Brain Injuries


Each year more than 330,000 children and teens receive emergency department treatment for sports or recreationrelated concussions or other types of traumatic brain injuries—a “disruption in the normal functioning of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or penetrating head injury.”

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can have serious health effects for children and teens that impact brain development, including changes in thinking, memory, movement and emotional functioning. In particular, the cumulative effects of repeated TBIs can contribute to more prolonged recovery after each injury, result in more severe symptoms or even be life threatening. TBIs can also affect school performance, often making it harder for students to concentrate, learn new information and switch between tasks. A 2015 Pediatrics study found that 90 percent of youth recovering from a concussion reported at least one related academic problem.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have policies to address TBIs among youth athletes. Most create rules for removing a student athlete from play or practice in the event of a suspected concussion, as well as returning a youth athlete to practice or play after evaluation and clearance by a designated health care provider.

In recent years, some states have expanded their “return-to-play” policies to include provisions to help students safely and successfully transition back to classroom learning following a concussion or other TBI. At least nine states have “return-to-learn” provisions requiring schools, districts or states to establish protocols for transitioning students back to school following a TBI. A few other states considered legislation requiring or encouraging “return-to-learn” protocols in 2017.

While state laws vary by which students and types of injuries must be covered by protocols (e.g., TBIs among student athletes or all students), many policies require school personnel to be alert to special supports students may need during recovery, make necessary curriculum modifications, and allow a gradual return to full academic participation. Illinois’ law requires protocols that are evidence-based, meaning they must use the best available scientific evidence to determine “return-to-learn” procedures. A few states also require “return-to-learn” education for school personnel, such as athletic coaches. In addition to these policies, TBI is a condition identified as eligible for services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which all states are required to implement.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017; Coronado, VG, et.al, 2015; NCSL, 2017; Ransom, DM, et.al, 2015.



United State map of "Return-to-Learn" state laws for students with traumatic brain injuries