Board votes against revising GCHS Level 6 athletics and activities plan

Meghan Flynn
Garden City High School principal Steve Nordby, right, and the GCHS Athletic Director Drew Thon speak to the USD 457 Board of Education on Monday about proposed revisions to the high school's Athletics and Activities Level 6 Protective Measures.

The USD 457 Board of Education declined to pass a revision to the Athletics and Activities Level 6 Protective Measures at the board’s regular meeting Monday.

The proposed changes were to allow activity practice and competition at the Level 6, which is not currently allowed in the plan.

The Board voted 1-4 in favor of the changes. Board member Jennifer Standley was the only affirmative vote.

Proposed changes to the plan included:

• No spectators at the activities.

• Decreased maximum team practice sizes from 50% of the team to 33% of the team when the group would be larger than 15 or what social distancing allows (if less than 33%).

• A nurse to oversee symptoms checks with coaches and sponsors and increased education for coaches from the Finney County Health Department and school nurses.

• Elimination of the use of gaiter-style face coverings and required use of traditional face masks.

• Coaches to wear face masks full time and social distancing during practice.

• Creation of a COVID pledge including best mitigation practices with a committee of coaches, sponsors, administration, central office personnel and Board of Education members.

• Reevaluation of the changes at the board’s regular meeting on Jan. 11 to decide whether to make the changes permanent.

Board member Lara Bors said she has always supported providing sports and activity opportunities for students, that what students learn outside of the classroom is as vital as inside the classroom, but she could not support the proposed changes.

“I think with some additional work I could. I disagree, I think there's a lot more work that needs to be put in to this particular proposal,” she said. “Level 6 is really where the rubber meets the road. I think it needs to be far more detailed and I think there needs to be a lot more collaboration between the coaches and all of the stakeholders.”

Several members of the community spoke in favor of approving the changes.

Symone Simmons, a Garden City High School senior who is involved in volleyball, basketball, track, show choir, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is vice president of the National Honor Society chapter, spoke on behalf of student athletes in favor of the changes.

Simmons said many of the athletes continue to focus on school while in remote learning because they want to participate in athletics, and it’s difficult to swallow that GCHS is the only 6A high school in the state not allowing students to participate right now.

“Holcomb is 15 minutes away, they're in the same county, share the same health department, and they are still playing. It is discouraging and disheartening seeing other athletes doing what they love while we don't get that opportunity,” she said.

Some students are considering transferring to surrounding schools to participate in athletics, Simmons said, and students need athletics and activities to get back “even the smallest mount of normalcy, positivity and hope we have all been longing for.”

Nathan Kells, a parent of a student, also spoke on behalf of the changes.

Kells said life is full of risk and students need to get back into sports for their mental health if nothing else.

“The second leading cause of death for those youngsters is suicide,” he said. “The mental health that these kids are having to deal with — as parents, as adults we have a little bit better opportunity to handle that. Our kids, unfortunately, do not. Let's not make it any worse on them.”

Beth Koksal, is a parent of children within the school district and the director of Community Health at the Finney County Community Health Coalition. She spoke against the changes.

Koksal said she’s heard parents say that nothing happened during falls sports, but knows that the situation has changed since the start of school in the fall.

Koksal said she understands the benefit of sports and activities, but if they’re going to allow students back into school during Level 6 it should be those most in need such as those struggling academically, those without internet at home and children too young to stay at home by themselves.

“Our kids are not the ones bearing the burden of COVID-19, the over 14 million Americans that have tested positive and the families of the 285,000 who have perished from this virus bear a much greater burden than our students unable to participate and practice in games,” she said. “We need to be working together to control the spread here, increasing communications about the importance of restricting gatherings, looking for opportunities to bring teams together for mental health checks in Zoom and other safe platforms.”

Board member Jennifer Standley said she was in favor of the changes as a starting point to get students back in school.

“I feel like I am willing to approve this motion as a step toward get our kids back in the classroom, because I feel like, or I hope that if this goes through and we get our kids back in practices as soon as possible we can then have the discussion of let's get our kids back in the classroom,” she said. “I still believe you find data where you look for it and I agree that our hospitals are struggling and the numbers are there and people l are sick, but the data is there that our kids are struggling and yes, some of that data comes from before COVID, but it still stands that when kids are not in school there are higher risks for other things.”