Former high school football player charges school officials exhibited cavalier attitude toward concussion
Zachary Alt claims his football coach at Highlands High School (HHS) sent him back into a game after suffering a concussion despite teammates’ warnings about his “incoherent condition,” says Courthouse News Service. Alt has filed suit in federal district court in Pennsylvania against Highlands School District (HSD) and a number of HHS officials, including the coach and the principal. The suit also charges that when Alt’s injuries became so debilitating that they affected his grades, Principal Thomas Shirey said he could fix that with a “shake of his magic wand,” in an “overt” and “unethical” offer to change his grades.
The suit alleges that head football coach Sam Albert left Alt in the game in “deliberate indifference” to his condition which worsened throughout the game. According the suit, “In fear for plaintiff’s health, safety and welfare, at least two of his teammates approached defendant Albert during the course of the game and advised him of plaintiff’s incoherent condition. Alt’s suit alleges that Albert did nothing in response to the players’ pleas, and that the coach’s deliberate indifference amounted to a “practice, custom or policy.”
Alt claims that the professional incompetence did not end on the field. Albert’s and trainer Mike Russo’s initial post-game plan was “to require plaintiff Alt to ride the bus back to school with his team,” the complaint states. Then they decided that Russo would take Alt home. ”Even after observing the plaintiff in this vulnerable state, defendant Russo failed to understand the risks associated with plaintiff’s injuries, and suggested to plaintiff’s mother that she should just ‘put him to bed.’” Instead, plaintiff’s mother immediately transported the plaintiff to the emergency room at a local hospital. ”It was later communicated to Megan Alt by one of plaintiff’s treating physicians that had she followed the advice of defendant Russo and ‘put him to bed,’ plaintiff would have most likely fallen into a comatose state.”
The hospital found that Alt had suffered “a substantial closed head injury.”
Alt says he “continues to suffer from serious and potentially permanent effects of this closed head injury.” When he requested accommodations at school – including that he be allowed to carry a water bottle into the classroom – he was “met with resistance and ridicule.” Alt says his medical condition deteriorated rapidly, until his grades declined.
According to the suit, instead of instituting policies to help Alt obtain an education, the principal offered to change his grades with a “shake of his magic wand.” In addition, the complaint alleges that teachers altered his grades during his junior and senior years. ”This alleged offer to fix grades constituted deliberate indifference to the welfare of the plaintiff and a “practice, custom or policy in deliberate indifference to the level of education administered to Highlands’ students, including the plaintiff,” the complaint states.
Despite receiving a diploma, Alt says, he “possesses an education which is well below a tenth grade level,” causing “a permanent diminution of his earning power and capacity.” Alt demands damages for constitutional violations, bodily injury, violation of the school’s special relationship to him, violation of his right to an education, and other charges.
Source: Courthouse News Service, 4/11/11, By Reuben Kramer
[Editor's Note: Alt's legal complaint is available at the first link below. In a February 2011, Education Week reported on the re-introduction of legislation in the U.S. Congress that would force school districts to adopt concussion management plans that educate students, parents, and school personnel about concussion recognition, response, and prevention. The article also discussed the introduction of companion bills in the Pennsylvania legislature by state Senator Pat Browne and Rep. Tim Briggs. The bills would require student-athletes who suffer concussions to obtain clearance from a doctor before returning to play. The bills would also require students and parents to sign a “concussion awareness sheet,” to help educate both parents and students about the risks associated with concussions. A summary of the article is available at the second link below.]