EVANSTON — At the January school board meeting, the Uinta County No. 1 School District administration dismissed allegations by Evanston physical therapist Mike Jacketta regarding the district’s concussion policy and a conflict between Jacketta and district activities director Bubba O’Neill. As previously reported in the Herald, Jacketta has made serious allegations about what he described as deficiencies in the district’s concussion policy for student athletes and other issues, and he was given an opportunity to air those concerns at the board meeting after he was placed was on the agenda at his request.
For years, Jacketta has assessed student injuries under a $1-a-year contract with the district; This school year, however, the district has not renewed that contract, and the board has heard presentations from several healthcare providers about finding a full-time athletic trainer. However, the once friendly professional relationship between Jacketta and the district has evidently deteriorated in recent weeks.
On Friday, December 10, O’Neill called Jacketta about a student injured at the Evanston Invitational Wrestling Tournament – all parties agree the call took place. All parties also agree that the call was controversial, with Jacketta admitting that he had confronted O’Neill about the concussion policy and the fact that his contract with the district had expired. However, after the call, O’Neill emailed district staff directing them not to call Jacketta at Jacketta’s requests — which Jacketta denies ever having done.
While Jacketta claims the email sent by O’Neill was unprofessional and damaging to his business, O’Neill and Evanston High School principal Merle Lester, who said he was present during the call and got the Exchange heard that Jacketta had asked not to be called. Lester also claimed it was Jacketta who acted unprofessionally during the call, which he described as riddled with profanity — profanity Jacketta admitted during the board meeting. Lester and O’Neill also both questioned why the issue of concussion policy even came up during the call about a student’s leg injury.
As previously reported, although Jacketta initially questioned whether the injured student was medically examined, District Superintendent Ryan Thomas told the Herald in December the student was seen by another doctor within minutes.
Regarding the concussion policy, Jacketta told the board he believed the policy was vague and unenforceable as written, causing confusion among coaches and district staff. “I don’t think the coaches and nurses have enough resources to make safe decisions based on the calls I’ve received,” he said. “I really believe that some district staff are on an island and cannot voice their concerns,” he continued.
Jacketta previously told the Herald he was concerned about the policy because it didn’t mention a neurocognitive ImPACT test (immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive testing) or a comprehensive concussion treatment program, and didn’t mention what type of training or certification a medical provider is required to provide expert opinions. Thomas emailed the Herald last month after the Dec. 10 conference call about the concussion ordinance, stating that every coach is required to undergo training on sports injuries. However, at the board meeting, Thomas also shared the district’s concussion logs, which actually detail ImPACT neurocognitive testing and a concussion management program.
The protocols state that all coaches are required to complete the Centers for Disease Control’s heads-up online training course on brain injury awareness for high school and youth coaches, and stipulate that all students must complete an ImPACT baseline test before they participate in school sports two years later. Students must then take and pass the ImPACT test after a head injury before they are allowed to return to the sport and receive clearance from a doctor. The protocols state that neither the ImPACT test nor a medical clearance “is a stand-alone permit for a return to learning or play. Both must be obtained before resuming work.”
When the minutes were exchanged at the board meeting, Jacketta asked how long they had been in use, to which Thomas said they were written in 2012. Jacketta then described those protocols as “wonderful” and “thorough,” noting that he himself had helped draft them years ago. O’Neill acknowledged Jacketta’s writing assistance and expressed his gratitude.
Thomas said there are parts of the protocols that he believes could benefit from additional clarity and said the EHS nurse reached out to local medical professionals to solicit input and ensure the protocols were clear and everyone involved — from coaches to staff to community health providers — would know how to manage head injuries or suspected head injuries — a process Thomas says actually began in November. Chief Executive Officer Cassie Torres and other trustees agreed that if the protocols could be improved in any way, those improvements should be made.
An emotional O’Neill also addressed the board, saying if the allegations against him were true he should be fired and describing the weeks since the story involving Jacketta’s claims appeared in the Herald as “hell”. Both O’Neill and Thomas expressed concerns that the allegations portrayed staff and coaches in a negative light, with O’Neill emphasizing, “No one in this district would harm children.”
Thomas said: “It’s irresponsible to tell people that we hurt children,” adding he had “a lot of faith in our coaches that they would never put children at risk”. Thomas also spoke particularly about O’Neill, saying, “The best thing about him is his passion. He is the most honorable and ethical man I have ever met.”
During his comments, Jacketta recommended convening a committee to review all cases of head injury or suspected head injury in the past three years to determine if ImPACT testing was being performed properly and if other protocols were being followed. He also requested a written explanation from the district regarding the email sent by O’Neill, which Torres said would be received within 30 days of the date of the request.
Elsewhere, new board member John DuBois was sworn in to fill the seat vacated by Jami Brackin’s resignation, and the board held a discussion of downsizing the board. A reduction in the size of the board has been discussed several times in recent years and came up again as there are now six seats up for election in November – five four-year terms and one two-year term to fill Brackin’s remaining term. Although some trustees said they were in favor of a reduction, others, including Dan Wheeler and new member DuBois, took an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach, with Wheeler actually saying he was “vehemently” opposed to that the board had more important things to devote time and resources to. It was decided to drop the issue unless problems arise in the fall related to not enough people running for the board to fill the available spots.
Finally, the Trustees also re-approved Rule CKA, the district’s concealed carry policy, which allows authorized employees to carry concealed firearms on district property. This is the third time the district has approved the entire policy, with the other adoptions being challenged in court and voided.