By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Board of Education isn’t allowing just athletes on campus — career and technical education students in the county now have that clearance as well.
At the school board’s Tuesday, Aug. 4, meeting, the board opted to allow CTE students to pursue their certifications through hands-on learning at Boone or Crockett during the COVID-19 health crisis, while athletes at the middle school and high school levels are permitted to participate in full-contact practices and games.
The motion passed in a 6-3 vote with board members Annette Buchanan, Mary Beth Dellinger and Phillip McLain in opposition.
For board member Mitch Meredith, allowing sports to continue while CTE students have to put their work on hold seemed unjust.
“I have a hard time saying, ‘I can’t have five kids in a welding class, but I can have 45 or 50 on a football field,’” board member Mitch Meredith said. “The public is looking at me saying, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and I’m getting ready to act on letting them play ball.”
The original motion to allow full-contact practices and games in Washington County School System came as a recommendation from the athletics committee, but was amended by Meredith. The motion as amended passed unanimously.
“What’s troubling to me is we heard 20 minutes ago (from College, Career and Technical Director Crystal Fink) that she can’t get five kids into a welding class (because of, I guess, the policy that the director of schools has implemented (sending school to a virtual format).
“This body is getting ready to tell the director of schools to let these kids play football. I’m going to make an amendment to the motion to tell the director of schools to allow the CTE classes to carry on within the confines of five students or eight students, to where we can get these kids’ certifications in place and hands-on actions taken care of and do what this board of education — which is education — is responsible for doing.”
Meanwhile, board members who are also part of the athletic committee said it was imperative, specifically for football teams, to practice enough to be able to compete in regularly scheduled games.
“If you don’t let them move forward practicing and getting prepared to play, then football is done for the year,” board member Todd Ganger said. “It’s not a sport where you can just say, ‘Next week we’re going to let you all play. You can go back to practicing this week and get ready.’ If you turn away from it tonight, and don’t allow them to move forward, you’re pretty much getting rid of the football season for both high schools.”
Some board members felt engaging in full-contact sports while Washington County Schools operates on an online format was not ideal.
“I just don’t see how we cannot conduct school but we can conduct football or volleyball or fall sports,” Buchanan said. “I just don’t see how we can say, ‘We can’t bring our kids into school because it’s not safe,’ but we say, ‘it’s safe for our athletes.’”
Last week Johnson County and Greeneville City both suspended its seasons after multiple football players tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, Sullivan North shutdown practices for 14 days and Happy Valley, which currently has no cases within its program, has opted to currently hold off on its season for now.
“The numbers from some of these other places that are coming to us are higher than ours,” Buchanan said. “So we’re just going to prolong school being in session.
“I don’t mind (Washington County’s teams) practicing. I just think their games and bringing other students here needs to be put off. Let’s see after Labor Day.”
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association has outlined suggested guidelines for social distancing during fall sports, which include one-third to one-fourth spectator capacity and limitations on concession stands and band performances. Those guidelines are recommended though not required. Athletes, coaches and personnel, however, are required to participate in COVID-19 screening before each practice and game.
Dellinger said she has received emails with concerns about the new guidelines.
“I know in the elementaries, they are not comfortable,” Dellinger said. “The elementary principals are going to have to monitor (temperature checks and social distancing protocols). That is going to add to (their list of duties). Who is going to do that, take temperatures, make sure people have face coverings?”
Flanary said that will be a “group effort” between coaches, nurses and principals.
While many programs have put their seasons on hold due to the spread of COVID-19 in the region, some county board members said they felt it would be better to practice for now while keeping in mind the season could still be delayed.
“I think it comes down to where do we place our priorities,” McLain said, “on education or on athletics? In this scenario, I think you need to err on the side of safety. I’d let them go ahead and practice in case this thing eases up. But in the meantime, I don’t see how we can support public games.”
The next BOE meeting will be held on Thursday, Sept. 3. That meeting will be livestreamed and can be viewed at wcde.org or at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDnmnXQAmOV6q16q0xrEpPA/videos.