You want concussion records? Sign away your right to sue
Renee Boland was trying to understand where it all went wrong. When her son, Jonathan, was arrested for a string of 2016 convenience store robberies, it seemed so out of character that she wondered if his concussions, suffered playing football for Parkrose High School and Portland State University, might have been a factor.
To piece together a sequence of Boland's return to play from a series of high school concussions, Renee and Jonathan Boland asked Parkrose High School on March 16, 2018, for video footage of the games and copies of the medical documentation in Jonathan's file.
The reply from Parkrose administration stunned Renee. Karen Gray, superintendent at the time, wanted Renee to submit not only a request for Jonathan's records, but also give written assurance that she would not sue the district. Conditions were laid out in an April 3, 2018 email from Molly Ouche, the Parkrose High principal:
"Thanks Renee, I spoke to Karen and I will also need written permission signed by you that you hold the district harmless. Once we get both of those documents then we can get you your requests."
Gray, who no longer is at Parkrose, declined to comment for this article. Our reporting indicates that she was the one to add the condition of a waiver, putting Renee in the position of having to give up her legal rights to obtain her son's records.
That same day, Renee emailed this reply: "I wanted to reassure you that the request of Jonathan's documents is in no wise (sic) punitive to the district, coaches, or trainers, etc."
David Kracke, who helped craft Max's Law, Oregon's landmark concussion legislation, was troubled when briefed on the email exchange. "It just doesn't smell right." says Kracke, a longtime personal injury lawyer now working for the University of Oregon's Center on Brain Injury & Training. "I would never ask her or advise her to sign such a hold harmless agreement."
Duane Bosworth, one of Oregon's top First Amendment lawyers, said Oregon law does not permit requiring a waiver to get government documents. And, he adds, it likely has no legal value if Renee wants to sue the district.
"The bottom line is that whatever waiver she gave should be set aside in a moment by a court," Bosworth said. "It has no validity because it was obtained absolutely improperly."
Renee was offended that it had to come to that. "Do you know why I had to do that?" she asked. "I'm black, and when something like this happens to people of color, the first thing another race would think is that 'You're money hungry, you're ready to sue somebody, you're ready to … blame.' That's the life that I live."
She received access to game footage and received medical records from the county clinic at the high school. These documents were shared with InvestigateWest for "Rattled," our collaborative investigation with Pamplin Media Group into youth concussions in Oregon.
Among the documents sent, there are no Return to Play forms. Such forms, made available by the Oregon School Activities Association, are encouraged as best practice. But Max's Law, named for former high school quarterback Max Conradt, does not specify what document is required other than "a medical release form from a health care professional."
Gray left Parkrose last year and is the superintendent for Lincoln County School district, the same district where Conradt went to school.
Rattled: Oregon's Concussion Discussionis a joint project of InvestigateWest, Pamplin Media Group and the Agora Journalism Center, made possible in part by grants from Meyer Memorial Trust and the Center for Cooperative Media. Researcher Mark G. Harmon from the Portland State University Criminology & Criminal Justice Department provided statistical review and analysis. The New York-based Solutions Journalism Network provided training in solutions-based techniques and support to participating journalists. Components of this project, which will include video and audio files, charts and graphs, will be hosted online by both Investigatewest and the Portland Tribune.
Emily Harris of Reveal contributed to this article. Jonathan Boland's story was the subject of "Lasting Impact," a recent episode of Reveal, the podcast of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. You can access it online at http://www.revealnews.org, or subscribe to Reveal wherever you get your podcasts.