USD 457 approve activities reopening plan

Meghan Flynn
Unified School District 457 board member Dana Nanninga talks about the district's COVID-19 plan at the board's July 30 meeting in Garden City High School's auditorium.

The Unified School District 457 Board of Education revised its COVID-19 reopening plan to include activities and athletics at its regular meeting Monday.

The activities and athletics section was broken down into levels and covered topics such as game operations, in-game changes, practices and attendance.

Drew Thon, Garden City High School athletic director and associate principal, said the goal of the plan was to make activities and sports as normal as possible despite the pandemic.

“We're going to do this while keeping students safe, as safe as possible, and we are going to have to make adjustments to any plan that we have,” he said. “We're going to see adjustments tonight to our district plan, I'm sure moving forward there will be adjustments to this plan.”

Thon said Levels 1 and 2, which correspond with the district’s operating levels, kind of mirror what the district is doing in the classroom.

The committee who put together the plan tried to basically extend the classroom to the athletic fields and gyms, Thon said.

Thon said in-game changes and practice changes made to Levels 1 and 2 are things that are going to be standard throughout all six levels.

Some of the in-game changes include utilization of more locker rooms for home and visiting teams, elimination of handshakes, enlargement of the sideline, extension of quarters and time-outs, elimination of the coin toss, game balls will be exchanged and cleaned throughout competitions and nontraditional locations for half-time and pre-game.

Additionally there will be restrictions between fans and players, each player will have their own water bottle, social distancing will be implemented on the sidelines, face coverings are recommended for outside activities on the sidelines for coaches and athletes, face coverings will required during inside events when in Level 3 and the band will be moved to the south end zone.

Some practice changes include maintaining attendance records; daily screenings of coaches, players and managers; social distancing whenever possible; face coverings are recommended; each player will have their own water bottles and cups; personal equipment will not be shared.

Larger in-game and practice changes occur in Levels 3 and up, Thon said.

At Level 3, there will be a reduction in capacity of the stadiums and gyms of 50%, Thon said.

Additionally the cheer and dance teams will be limited to the levels of competition, Thon said. So if it’s a varsity game only the varsity cheer or dance team will be present, the same with the JV and freshman teams.

At Level 4 the band will be reduced to a drumline and the marching band will only be playing at halftime.

Also at Level 4, middle-school competitions will be paused, practice will continue, but because at Level 4 middle-school students will be split in attendance by 50% they will practice in groups based on who is at school that day, Thon said.

At Level 5, there will be no band at games, they will only march at halftime.

Large practice changes will happen at Level 5 in the district, Thon said. The number of students at practice will be split by 50% or less.

“The way we see that happening is cross country having multiple practices, football team having multiple practices, band having multiple practices available for those kids to participate in,” he said.

At Level 6 students are not at school, so practices will be held virtually, Thon said.

“Practice is more that what happens on the field, it's also the study halls that we have and the communications that our coaches have with kids outside of school,” he said. “So we'll continue to have virtual practices to where our students are still involved with those activities so those things can continue, but obviously they will not be held at school and all our competitions will be put on pause until we come back out of Level 6.”

One of the biggest changes to in-game at all levels is in determining who can be in attendance at the game and determining whether to play the game or not, Thon said.

To determine to go forward with a game or not, every Monday a week prior to the event Thon, somebody from the central office, two middle school athletic directors, a middle school principal and somebody from the Finney County Health Department will meet to discuss the following week’s activities.

“If something is deemed high risk we will look at rescheduling those events,” he said. “If we look at a certain city and see that they have an increasing number of COVID cases and we do not feel comfortable sending our kids to that location, we will try to reschedule out of that or not play that game. That will happen regardless of what level we're in, we'll have those weekly meetings.”

Board member Tim Hanigan expressed concern about how to determine if a game goes forward and whether or not it is safe for students to travel to other schools.

“I'm trying to pin down what exactly is our definition of high risk? Because you have competing interests, you have the interests of those who participate in sports, those whose kids participate in sports, those who make their living as athletic directors and/or people involved in sports, so you have those competing interests against the competing interest of public safety without knowing what your definition is of a high-risk community,” he said. “As a board member, I have no way of knowing whether or not those decisions abut the appropriateness of travel are made in the best interest of kids or in the best interest of a sport.”

USD 457 superintendent Steve Karlin said they don’t have a specific indicator for what classified as a high-risk community, but believes a number of indicators will be used to make that determination.

“I don't know if we can tell you yet, without some experience and some modeling information that this is exactly what it would look like,” he said. “I think the effort here will be to have the athletic directors who have that kind of information with the health department experts that have the information about what's going on in their community.”