The Kentucky Board of Education sent a letter to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association on Aug. 31 urging for expanded guidance on its decision to move forward with its current schedule for Fall sports for middle and high school students.
The letter followed the KBE’s special called meeting on Aug. 28, where board members heard from KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett on the process and reasoning behind the KHSAA Board of Control’s Aug. 20 decision to start practice for Fall sports on Aug. 24 and games on Sept. 7.
KBE chair Lu Young said the purpose of the meeting was not to overturn the KHSAA decision.
“We are not here to overturn the decision of the board of Control, but rather, to hear additional testimony and information regarding concerns for students’ health and safety,” Young said. “While readily acknowledging the many benefits of interscholastic athletics, we must also recognize our duty as the state Board of Education to provide and oversee an athletic system that reasonably protects the health and safety of student athletes.”
Young said the KBE’s responsibility for student safety is a sacred one.
In the meeting, Tackett discussed the KHSAA decision in early-July to postpone the start of Fall sports practice from July 15 to Aug. 24, a decision which was affirmed by a majority vote on Aug. 20 over two other options that would have delayed Fall games until Sept. 28 in congruence with recommendations for school openings, or start low-risk sports on Sept. 7 and moderate to hish-risk sports on Sept. 28.
Tackett said part of the decision process was based in finding a balance between the psychological well-being of students in needing the benefits provided by school sports and the pandemic, itself.
“We’re trying to strike a balance here,” he said. “We happen to be, in our business, at the confluence of two — two — different health crises, and that’s the psychological health and relationship building that the natural relationship in athletics gives you, and the pandemic itself, and either one has consequences … We’re on ice skates trying to navigate that.”
Throughout the process of this decision, Tackett said, the KHSAA has continued monitoring updates from the governor’s office with routine correspondence with the office, has had constant consultation with medical professionals, other sports organizations, and continues to develop alternatives for sports schedules and review COVID-19 case data.
In KBE’s letter to the KHSAA Board of Control, members came up with a list of recommendations on how the KHSAA should expand guidance on moving forward with Fall sports. The list reads as follows:
“1. Develop guidance for school districts on the responsibility and authority to enforce the protocols set forth in the recent KSHAA guidance document. Specifically, this new guidance should address the consequences for failure to follow KHSAA guidance, including how sports programs will be suspended or penalized for their failure to follow the guidance and ensure the safety of student athletes. Just as the rules of play are uniform and enforceable, so should be the rules for the protection of student athletes in light of COVID-19.
2. Anticipate and clarify how KHSAA guidance is likely to evolve and put forth clear and actionable guidance on how KHSAA will respond to a spike in cases at the school, district, regional and/or statewide level. If that were to happen, what kind of timely and responsible action will KHSAA take to reduce risks to student athletes?
3. Provide immediate guidance to school districts and coaches on spectator attendance at practice and competition. For example, will spectators be permitted to attend events? If so, will the number of spectators be limited? What are the requirements for temperature checks, social distancing and mask wearing for spectators if they are permitted to attend? How should concessions operate, if at all? School districts need clear guidance on these topics if they are to begin fall sports on the timeline approved by the Board of Control.
4. Develop clear guidance to school districts and coaches on how to best provide resources and mental health support to student athletes who are unable to play due to parent choice, COVID19 quarantine, program suspension due to COVID-19 or other reasons.
5. Require that the risks of COVID-19 are disclosed to families and students in a manner that is easily understood, along with recommended steps for students’ ‘return to sports’ following a COVID-19 diagnosis. These disclosures should clearly outline the return-to-play guidance and address medical testing concerns raised by Dr. Stack, e.g., cost and availability of pediatric cardiologists, echocardiograms, electrocardiograms and cardiac MRIs.
6. Take steps, including but not limited to instructing KHSAA to work with KDE and the Department for Public Health, to develop model COVID-19 testing protocols for student-athletes and coaches that could be replicated across the state.
7. Adopt a regular reporting schedule, not less than bi-weekly, for the Board of Control and the KBE/KDE to receive written reports from the KHSAA that summarize COVID-related issues KHSAA is dealing with (by sport, district and school) and how concerns are addressed as they arise.”
Christie Netherton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7360