USD 232 school district will develop its own criteria for conducting student athletics during pandemic

After the USD 232 Board of Education disagreed on what benchmarks to use to determine how to safely conduct student athletics and other activities, district staff will begin developing criteria different from that recommended by Johnson County.

Alvie Cater, district spokesperson, said their criteria could mirror so-called “gating criteria” recently released by the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. The school board also unanimously agreed that the school district will utilize the county health department’s gating criteria for in-person instruction.

Some board members wanted to use the county health department’s gating criteria as the sole guidelines for athletics and activities, while others preferred to incorporate input from the Kansas State High School Activities Association to develop separate criteria.

“It’s a super, super tough call to make; it’s not easy,” said Danielle Heikes, board president. “I don’t know what other criteria we’d apply.”

A motion to accept the county health department’s gating criteria for student athletics and activities failed in a 5-2 vote. Heikes and Stephanie Makalous voted in support of adopting the county’s criteria. Board members Rachele Zade, Bill Fletcher, Ashley Spaulding, John Gaignat and Rick Amos voted against it.

Instead, the board has directed district staff to work with coaches, principals, athletic trainer services at the University of Kansas Health System Sports Medicine and Performance Center, and the various sports leagues at the secondary level, to develop separate gating criteria for athletics and activities.

In a demonstration last week, USD 232 families stressed the need to return students to in-person learning this fall. Above, a file photo of Kelly Smith, a USD 232 parent.

“I struggle a little bit with this,” said Rick Amos, a board member, who proposed using separate criteria for sports and activities. “I question us being able to follow this exact same gating criteria just because I think our coaches are trying to be responsible. I think it’s important to try to give these kids some sort of season.”

The vote follows a few days after some USD 232 students and parents rallied for in-person learning at the De Soto High football field.

‘We have all been through a difficult time’

As a whole, the school board stressed the need to balance health and safety with students’ mental health, while also fostering opportunities they could get from sports and extracurricular activities.

“We have all been through a difficult time as it relates to school as we know it and the pandemic and the impact that that’s having on students from a social-emotional standpoint,” said Alvie Cater, district spokesperson. “There are some board members who want to be judicious in how we approach athletics and activities, but at the same time the school district wants to do as much as we can to keep all students and student-athletes as safe as possible.”

The district staff will develop some gating criteria for student athletics that could mirror the health department’s gating criteria, Cater added. At this point, it’s unclear if the school board will sign off on that criteria.

District staff will also consider allowing students enrolled in online-only learning to participate in activities and athletics outside the normal school day and remotely in activities during the school day.

And, if an event or activity is canceled or cut short, sponsors and coaches are expected to provide opportunities and participation as appropriate, in order to keep students engaged and connected.

The school board also unanimously and officially approved some tweaks to Coming Back Together, the school district’s on-site and remote learning guidelines for the 2020-21 school year, as well as a revised school year calendar per district staff’s recommendation.

The revised calendar accounts for the delayed start of school due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  The first full day is set for Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Cater said the revised calendar allows 10 training days in August dedicated for teachers to prepare for school and new routines that will accommodate the different learning environments.

The district posted the revised school calendar and is sending more information to families on Tuesday about on-site and remote learning plans ahead of enrollment and registration, which is slated to take place on Monday, Aug. 10, and Tuesday, Aug. 11.