Carson High senior seeks law to help students with head injuries after experiencing her own

20 March 2023

Stella Thornton — a Carson High School senior, vice president of the National Honor Society chapter at her school and youth legislator for Senate District 16 — is an avid equestrian. 

Thornton was riding a horse in September 2021 when she was bucked off, hitting her head on rocky terrain. She had a concussion. One month later, Thornton sustained a second concussion at home. 

“The only reason I’m alive is because I had a helmet on. I did not know I had a concussion,” Thornton told The Nevada Independent following the hearing for SB80 — a bill heard by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday on behalf of the Nevada Youth Legislature. The bill would update state law to provide “Return to Learn” guidelines for students managing traumatic head injuries. 

The bill sets forth requirements for school administrators to take after a student sustains a concussion or other head injury, with delineated and gradual steps from total rest to returning to a classroom or athletic activity. It would also require schools to form “concussion management teams” that include a school nurse or athletic trainer and other support staff, such as a school psychologist or social worker.

Several school districts submitted fiscal notes estimating that the bill could be costly — Washoe County School District estimated the bill would cost more than $633,000 in future budget cycles to implement because of an anticipated increase in compensation for athletic trainers. Other school districts, including those in Clark County and several rural counties, submitted fiscal notes suggesting the cost of the bill would be negligible.

Because there aren’t clear guidelines on how to manage a students’ needs after a head injury — though there are guidelines on how to manage concussions among student athletes — Thornton said she had a difficult time returning to school.

She recalled that on her first day back to school to meet with her teacher about her absence, she was wearing a hat, sunglasses and earplugs so as not to be overstimulated, which could have worsened the symptoms from her concussions. Her parents guided her to her classrooms. About a month later, she returned to her regular school schedule, but had to balance recovering from multiple concussions with her Advanced Placement (AP) schoolwork. 

Thornton said that though she didn’t blame her teachers for not meeting her needs, it was frustrating trying to communicate about the accommodations she needed knowing that there was no guarantee they would be provided.

Stella Thornton, a Carson High School senior with her Nevada Youth Legislature colleagues before a hearing for SB80 in front of the Senate Education Committee on March 15, 2023 in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Nevada Youth Legislators Stella Thornton, right, and Devika Bhatnagar inside the Legislature on March 15, 2023 in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

She eventually had to apply to receive protections from a federal 504 plan to get the accommodations she needed. 

“My teachers were not giving me the accommodations that I needed and that I deserve to be able to come back to school,” Thornton said. “I appreciate all of them and all the work they did with me. With some of my teachers though … communication got better with them because I got better, not because they accommodated more.”

Carson High School educators, a representative of the Nevada Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a Carson City resident testified in support. Several advocates of the bill had sustained head injuries themselves.

“Had there been a program like this available at the time, my situation would not have progressed as it did,” said Carson City resident Danny French, who said he had a hard time in school after head injuries, but through the support of friends and family, was able to pursue continued education. 

French first heard about Thornton when she presented a research project on concussions to the Carson City School Board for one of her AP classes. 

“To hear someone … [say] that he heard me at the school board meeting that — just — I can’t even explain that feeling to know that I’ve influenced somebody’s life to be able to advocate for themselves,” Thornton said.

Though Thornton said her plans involve just getting through the legislative session, she hopes to graduate high school with an AP capstone diploma and study political science at UNR this fall.

“I do see myself as a lifelong advocate,” Thornton said. “That is who I like to be, that’s what I like to do and I like to advocate for people who are not able to speak for themselves.”

David Calvert contributed to this story.

The post Carson High senior seeks law to help students with head injuries after experiencing her own appeared first on The Nevada Independent.

Need help?

Please use the contact form to get support. Thank you.