Governor Signs Brain Injury Bill into Law

March 23, 2021

Harrisonburg- On Thursday Governor Northam signed a bill into law that aims to make it easier for students with a brain injury to receive the appropriate educational supports and services in school. Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Broadway) patroned the bill during the 2021 Legislative Session after hearing from a local mother who faced difficulties in getting the appropriate services for her child with a brain injury.

The bill modifies the current definition of brain injury for special education services to be more inclusive of acquired brain injuries, beyond only those obtained through external physical force. The current narrow definition can result in some students with an acquired brain injury not receiving the appropriate services or receiving services that are unnecessary. Delegate Wilt worked with the constituent, Amanda Morris, Brain Injury Connections of the Shenandoah Valley, the Brain Injury Association of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Education to develop the bill last fall and ensure its passage in the General Assembly.

“March is Brain Injury Awareness month and it provides Brain Injury Connections of the Shenandoah Valley with additional opportunities for advocacy concerning the needs of individuals living with brain injury,” commented Cindy Noftsinger, Executive Director of the local organization. “We understand that people living with brain injury deserve better access to services and supports, but we need champions like Delegate Wilt and our parent advocate, Mrs. Morris, to help spread the word. With better understanding of the unique needs of persons with brain injury, our communities become aware of existing challenges and ways folks can help improve lives. When we all work together, as we did on this bill, we can make a huge impact on individuals, families and our community.”

“We are hopeful that this bill will fill the gap between the medical and educational field for children affected by brain injury and increase collaboration between educators and health professionals who are trained to provide guidance on the specific needs of the child’s cognitive abilities,” stated Mrs. Morris. “My son James was the inspiration for this bill, he has had to fight many battles in his life, the right to a free and appropriate education should not have been one of them.”

“I appreciate Mrs. Morris bringing this issue to my attention and I’m hopeful the broader definition will better meet the needs of students with a brain injury and their families,” said Wilt. “It’s certainly fitting this new policy that will benefit students with a brain injury was signed into law during Brain Injury Awareness Month.”

Brain Injury Connections of the Shenandoah Valley seeks to enhance the lives of individuals affected by brain injury through cultivating connections with information, services and resources. Through their work and the work of similar organizations, brain injury awareness and supports for individuals with a brain injury has made gains in recent years. In addition to this bill the General Assembly has passed several other reforms, including a bill sponsored by Delegate Wilt last year to ensure law enforcement crisis intervention team members have traumatic brain injury training.