By Taylor Boyd
After two tied votes on whether to allow students to play winter sports, members of the Patrick County School Board tabled further discussion until an upcoming meeting.
“My concern is I want everyone to play sports, but there’s a lot of kids who probably need to concentrate more on their schoolwork. Going back to all the discussion we’ve had about not being able to go back to school four days a week, we’re in the hybrid plan, and having quarantines here and there, with cases going up in the county,” Brandon Simmons, chairman and of the Dan River District, said after
the matter was presented at a school board meeting Thursday.
Terry Harris, assistant principal and athletic director at Patrick County High School, said the region has created a return to play protocol to allow students to participate in Virginia High School League athletics.
“The protocol will use two different metrics,” he said.
The first metric is a seven-day metric from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), which outlines the entire region.
“If that metric shows everyone in that region is at high risk, it’s essentially like strike one against you. The recommendation is to probably consider not playing,” Harris said.
He said that metric will be tricky because it could show a spike in Roanoke, which doesn’t even affect Patrick County and other schools in the athletic division. But “they’ve kind of given us an out as far as if your local health department says the school is good, then you can continue to see if you’d be allowed to play.
“That’s where the second metric comes in. It’s division-specific, so you can go to the 14-day metric and click on Patrick County and look at active cases in the past two weeks. The recommendation is if a school is in the red, highest risk, to consider not playing,” he said.
The steps give schools the opportunity to check with local health departments to determine where the case numbers are coming from. “The health department can say if it is safe for us to go ahead and play,” he said.
“The region itself has put in these steps for us to follow, and it does give us the ability if we are in the red (to see) where the cases are coming from and get another opinion to see if we could safely hold a basketball game here at Patrick County High School or at a travel game,” Harris said.
He added that when athletic teams play away games, they are going only to play a game. “We are not going to tour the county. We’re going straight to that school and straight back. That bus will not stop anywhere to get a drink, food, anything like that,” he said.
Patrick County High School can accommodate only about 80 people in a ball game. “We’re going to open up one side of the bleachers and offer tickets to parents only,” he said.
Schools Superintendent Dean Gilbert said allowing athletic games has been a topic of discussion for several weeks during regional superintendents’ meetings.
“We’re trying to keep everybody on the same page, and this document has been approved by the VDH (health department). The draft of the regional documents pretty much states if you are orange and red, you do not play. If you are yellow, light green, and dark green, the lower levels of risk of any transmission, then you have the go ahead to play,” he said.
Harris said Martinsville is the only school to not reach a decision on the matter. “Even though Henry County did go all virtual until January they are still scheduled to play and are having practice.”
Harris said the protocol includes mitigation strategies to limit the number of students allowed in the locker rooms and shower at one time. “Students also have to pass three of their four classes to be able to participate in sports,” he added.
“There’s always a chance we may have to go back to all virtual and reading through all of this and reading about kids in the locker rooms and kids in the showers, that’s a big risk there too,” Simmons said.
Walter Scott, vice chairman and of the Smith River District, said “if we pass this, then there’s no reason we’re not back in school four-days a week. If the state level had put this much planning in getting everyone back in school, we’d be back in four-days a week.”
“We’re trying to keep A and B groups apart and separated, but we’re saying it’s okay to mix and mingle in-between and then send them back to class,” Simmons said. “Personally, I can’t justify saying we have to do hybrid, and then they can play sports together all week long and then return to A and B groups” for class.
“The A and B groups aren’t to keep students apart, it’s to lower the number of students during any given time in any specific area. It’s not to necessarily separate these kids from these kids, it’s to spread them out,” Ryan Lawson, of the Peters Creek District, said.
“As of right now we’re not mixing. We have not mixed A kids with B kids. Only A kids” can “work out on Mondays and Tuesdays and B kids on Thursdays and Fridays. Starting at the beginning of December with the official season we would begin the tryouts and have to mix those kids at that time for practices,” Harris said.
“What do you think about tabling this to give us more time” before deciding, Scott said.
“The official start date for practice for winter sports is Dec. 7, and we’re not scheduled to meet until Dec. 10,” Gilbert said.
Amy Walker, of the Mayo River District, said “It hurts my heart to know that kids love to play and we need them to be physically active, but we also need them to get a good education, and I feel like that’s what we’re here to do.”
For some students, athletics “is their education,” Scott said.
“You can read article after article about the benefits of high school athletics,” Harris said.
“We would need a decision on this before Dec. 7 so Mr. Harris and the high school can make their plans if there is an approval on this. We would have to have a called meeting on this, probably before Thanksgiving,” Gilbert said.
Scott made a motion to table the discussion until a called meeting was scheduled. Walker seconded the motion. Scott and Walker voted affirmatively. Lawson and Simmons cast nay votes.
Scott made a motion allow the school system to begin winter sports.
Scott and Lawson supported the motion; Simmons and Walker cast votes against it, which in effect tabled discussion until an upcoming meeting.
In other matters, the board:
*Approved the budget for the Coronavirus Relief Money (CRF) the school system received. “We were told in October we would be getting money from the CRF from the state government, and we received $426,160, which has to be spent by December 30,” Gilbert said. “I think it looks good. It looks like everything was divided up equally and fairly, and everyone is in this package,” Scott said.
*Approved a regulation update regarding professional staff fringe benefits related to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).
*Approved a regulation update regarding employee leave and absences to reflect Code of Virginia.
*Approved a policy update for the Restraint & Seclusion of Students to reflect changes in Code of Virginia.
Shannon Harrell of the Blue Ridge District did not attend the meeting.