USD 232’s plan for winter sports on hold after state bars fans starting Dec. 1

The USD 232 school district in De Soto will now allow up to two spectators from the same household for each student/athlete at district events for sports and activities. Above, students gathered for a socially-distanced protest in July, supporting the reopening of schools for in-person classes. File photo.

Update: On Tuesday, the Kansas High School Activities Association Board of Directors passed several motions regarding winter sports seasons that will:

  • Allow winter sports seasons to commence on Dec. 1 and continue through Dec. 22.
  • Suspend winter competitions between Dec. 23 and Jan. 8. and then restart play on Jan. 9.
  • Prohibit any fans from attending sports, starting Dec. 1 and lasting through at least Jan. 28.

The original story begins below:

The USD 232 school district in De Soto will now allow up to two spectators from the same household for each student/athlete at district events for sports and activities. Prior to the board’s decision last night, spectators were prohibited from attending in person when the school district is in the orange category. 

“Life has to go on,” said Board member Bill Fletcher said. “This way, they’re going to play their club sports if we don’t provide them this. We just can’t keep taking things away, and if they can do it safely… it would be a shame to take away more.”

The decision to allow spectators at events when in the orange category marks the school board’s third change in interpreting gating criteria. The first two changes occurred Aug. 24, when the school board met in the De Soto High gym and agreed to:

1) switch from following Johnson County’s gating criteria for schools to the Kansas Schools Gating Criteria, and

2) exempt sports and activities from the gating criteria to allow students to continue participating.

So far this school year, the district has opted to follow guidelines from the Kansas State High School Activities Association regarding mitigation procedures. Alvie Cater, district spokesperson, said that any actions from the KSHSAA board to delay or modify the timeline for winter activities, and/or establish new expectations, will override the school board’s decisions to allow up to two spectators and to even exempt activities from the gating criteria.

The school board met virtually on Monday evening to discuss and vote on this change to the district’s approach to sports and activities amid an unprecedented school year. 

Board members John Gaignat, Bill Fletcher, Rick Amos, Ashley Spaulding and Rachele Zade voted in favor. Board members Stephanie Makalous and Danielle Heikes voted in dissent.

Just last week, the board met in person and decided to accept that the school district is in the orange category, per a recommendation from an internal advisory committee that considers the Kansas Schools Gating Criteria as it relates to USD 232. The board’s decision last week returns middle and high school students to the remote learning environment on Nov. 30, as positive cases of the novel coronavirus spike in the community.

Here is the school district’s current criteria. And here is the district’s new criteria.

‘Nobody has come to consensus’

“Nobody has come to consensus on what the right thing is,” said Board President Danielle Heikes. File photo.

Board members shared differing perspectives. Some recognized that gyms can safely maintain physical distancing between households at events. Others said relaxing restrictions to allow up to two spectators could send the wrong message that the school district prioritizes sports and activities over education — especially after the school board’s decision last week to return secondary students to online learning.

“What’s a school board to do when we’re not the medical professionals and we want what’s best for our students and we want what’s best for our staff, we want what’s best for our families?” Heikes said. “Nobody has come to consensus on what the right thing is.”

Superintendent Frank Harwood said district staff is working with schools to find ways to livestream as many sports and activities as possible so that families can watch remotely. District staff will enforce masks and physical distancing, and spectators could be asked to leave if they fail to comply. File photo.

Superintendent Frank Harwood said district staff is working with schools to find ways to livestream as many sports and activities as possible so that families can watch remotely. District staff will enforce masks and physical distancing, and spectators could be asked to leave if they fail to comply.

Makalous said she has watched her children’s activities remotely, and while it’s not ideal, it is “doable.” Meanwhile, Fletcher, who advocated for middle schoolers to keep learning on site, and other board members said they wanted to see parents have the option to watch their children’s activities in person.

Calls for consistency in gating criteria

Some in the district community questioned the board’s decisions to modify the gating criteria in August. Heikes questioned why the board has gating criteria if it will not consistently follow it.

Spaulding, who urged her fellow board members last week to return secondary students to remote learning, said she thinks the school district can manage COVID-19 mitigation measures for sports and activities, especially with a limited number of spectators at each event.

“I hear what you’re saying, Danielle, for sure, it’s kind of like what is the point of the criteria if we aren’t going to follow it,” Spaulding said. “But I also just feel like we can do this safely, and I feel like it’s a different scenario than the learning environment. That’s why they’re different categories.”

Fletcher urged his board members to be consistent in their approaches on the learning environment as well as sports and activities.

“If you listen to yourself a lot here, and listen to yourself last Monday, you’re changing your theories, so don’t forget that,” Fletcher said. “Be consistent.”