Returning a minor to the field or court after a concussion is quite the process. Every school district in New Jersey for more than a decade has had written policies in place about how to handle head injuries among student-athletes.

But a new law signed in late September by Gov. Phil Murphy gets even more specific with the steps that must be taken before a kid is officially cleared for play.

According to the law, which received unanimous support from the Assembly and Senate, no child who sustains a concussion may return to competition prior to returning to regular school activities.

David Ryden, president of the Directors of Athletics Association of New Jersey, said that's been the rule anyway at Marlboro High School, where he's the supervisor of extracurricular activities.

"You're a student-athlete, so you've got to be a student first," Ryden said.

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In addition, the law requires that school districts implement the six-step return-to-competition process developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That process doesn't even begin until a student appears symptom-free — then the minor would advance to light aerobic exercise, and then sport-specific exercise, and so on.

"The return-to-play progression is to ramp up the kid's body to go back into competition," Ryden explained. "The nature of a brain injury — you can have zero symptoms, but then you could start exercising and that could cause a headache and you go backwards a little bit."

New Jersey passed a concussion law in 2010 that required the adoption of a concussion policy — how to prevent the injury, how to recognize a concussion, and how to treat one, for example — in each school district. A model policy developed by the New Jersey Department of Education included the six-step return process.

According to Ryden, the six-step progression is universally known by schools in New Jersey.

The law notes that districts must update their return-to-play processes whenever the CDC adjusts its recommendations.

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