Additional guidance for school sports coming
FINGER LAKES--Last week the New York State Council of Superintendents sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking for school sports to be delayed until at least Jan. 1 as districts plan to reopen in-person instruction while mitigating the COVID-19 global pandemic. Some schools, such as Dundee, expect to have relatively regular class scheduling this fall with many extra precautions to protect both students and staff by limiting density and movement. Whereas Watkins Glen plans a hybrid model with cohorts coming in either Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday. Across the state, individual school plans can vary greatly and led some officials to question making a recommendation on sports when the final guidelines have yet to be released.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) COVID-19 Task Force met Monday, Aug. 31, and said it expects to release a comprehensive return to interscholastic athletics document Friday, Sept. 4. As it stands currently, lower risk fall sports could begin on Sept. 21 with restricted games in mid-October.
"I am encouraged by the work of our association and state officials to provide the opportunity for schools to offer interscholastic athletics for students this fall," said Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA executive director. "Unfortunately all sports will look different and participation will not be the same as it was a year ago, but students will have the chance to represent their school, be around their friends and coaches, and experience a sense of normalcy this fall. It is critical that student-athletes be leaders in their schools and communities and strictly abide by COVID-19 safety protocols."
"I am in favor of having sports up and running (before Jan. 1)," said Howard Dennis, Penn Yan Central School District superintendent. "Sports are a big part of many of our students' lives but we have to do it safely and there are so many questions that need to be answered."
While stating he understood why Charles S. Dedrick, executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, asked for the delay, Dennis said he was not consulted.
"I understand why for some districts sports is a non-starter due to issues like transportation and the cost associated with so many districts having to make funding cuts due to state funding cutbacks," Dennis said. "But here we can make it work under the right conditions. We are trying to respond to parents and students in a meaningful way but it is difficult with so many unknowns right now. I wish I had more answers and I wish I didn't sound so (back and forth)," Dennis said.
Superintendent Christopher Wood of the Odessa-Montour Central School District also mentioned the large number of unknowns and said he was shocked when the governor said sports could resume.
"We got no heads up, no guidance on how it should look," Wood said.
Wood added the state guidance on reopening was over 140 pages and included rules on band practice and physical education but had no guidance on extracurriculars like sports.
Despite being surprised by the governor's announcement that sports would be allowed, Wood said he also doesn't agree with some of his colleagues that all sports should be delayed until Jan. 1.
"I need to see more information before making a decision. I would like to see sports come back this year but it has to be done gradually," Wood said.
On a question and answer document posted on the Watkins Glen school website, it notes students will be able to participate in sports whether they pick the remote-only or hybrid instruction model.
"Students will need to come to school for scheduled practices at their designated time regardless of where or when they received their instruction that day," the document states. "Further information on this process will be available when athletics have been approved to begin."
With the state athletic association signaling preliminarily that high-risk sports such as football would likely not be allowed to hold games this fall, the Watkins Glen school board on Monday night decided to cut it at this time.
However, all schools, no matter their plans, have repeatedly said with many unknowns this year, expect modifications to the initial plans.
Hammondsport Central School District Kyle Bower said he also disagrees that sports should be suspended until Jan. 1st.
"I can tell you that I was not consulted, nothing went out asking me if I supported that," Bower said. "I was as surprised it was sent out to anyone else."
Bower said the opinion shared on suspending sports was that of the leadership of the Council of Superintendents and does not unilaterally reflect the entirety of the membership. He did add that he understood why it was done.
Calling after school sports an important part of an attempt at a return to normalcy for students, Bower along with Dennis and Wood, said safety was at the core of their planning and decisions.
"My first concern is getting everyone on campus five days a week and providing an education," Bower said. "Educating the students comes first."
During a district question and answer session on Facebook Live, Dundee Superintendent Kelly Houck answered many questions about the return to school next week, including fall sports. She said they will look to the guidance expected at the end of the week, but for DCS, soccer and cross country fall into the low-risk category currently allowed.
"That's what we are waiting for right now, the additional guidance and updates so we can do whatever is necessary to bring those opportunities to fruition for our [kids] at DCS," said Houck. "This was not a decision we made or even had input on."
The Watkins Glen Central School District did not return requests for comment on this story.