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County schools approve winter sports, continue with online learning

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Winter sports are officially a go in Washington County.

At the Washington County Board of Education’s Thursday, Nov. 5 meeting, the board unanimously opted for winter sports to operate with ⅓ seating capacity, as suggested by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association. Boone’s gym at ⅓ capacity can hold 550 people while Crockett’s can hold 636.

Mike Masters, the athletics committee chairman, said it might be tough for the athletic directors at the high schools to manage the limited attendance.

“As a board, if it gets out of hand, my recommendation is we shut (the tickets) down to players only,” Masters said. “I don’t want to cut their season off, but if the ones in the stands cannot follow our protocol, we shut the door.”

With the lessened capacity, players would be allowed two tickets for family and friends. 

Cheerleaders at the high school level will only be cheering at home games.

Board member Chad Fleenor also made an amendment that the Boone Ballerz and Pioneer Shooters basketball teams get to also utilize school facilities while Washington County Schools are on a virtual schedule, which is set through Nov. 30. 

The board also discussed the Hardee’s Classic basketball tournament that is annually held at Crockett. 

Masters said it was important that during the tournament, which includes teams from the region and beyond, the capacity protocol is not exceeded.

“(The Crockett athletic director) will have to meet 636 or less at any given point or time at the tournament,” Masters said. “I don’t want more in there than ⅓. I think we’ve got to get serious about attendance.”

Some parents questioned the school system’s decision to keep sports operating while in-person school has been put on hold.

Ashley Barnes, an emergency room nurse and parent to a Ridgeview second grader, said she felt virtual learning doesn’t allow young elementary school students to adequately build the foundation of their education. 

She also said she felt it was unfair students can’t be in schools for class, but can participate in sports.

“What has been most frustrating is the perception that sports are valued more than our children’s education,” Barnes said. “That perception comes from allowing football games, soccer, cross country meets and other activities to continue on as normal as if they do not spread the virus. 

“I’m not standing here saying I want sports taken from our kids because I don’t. But I have a problem with the hypocrisy this board has expressed saying our kids aren’t safe in the classroom but they are fine to play sports and we can pack out our football stadiums with fans.” 

Other parents also expressed concerns with virtual learning.

Kerri Aistrop, who has a student at Jonesborough Elementary and one at Jonesborough Middle School, said she felt the board had not considered how to safely get students and teachers back in the classroom.

“I’ve not heard anyone say, ‘How can we safely do this?’ I know everyone’s goal is to get everyone back in the school safely,” Aistrop said, “but we’re looking at this pandemic lasting another year. This isn’t going away anytime soon. We’ve got to figure out a way to get these kids in the classroom. You’re killing these teachers who are busting it.”

For Melony Ogan, who has a Boone student in advanced placement classes, the reduced number of days in the classroom has made it harder for her son to get the education he needs, she said.

“How are our kids supposed to advance and learn when we are this far behind?” Ogan said. “My now junior took three (AP) classes last year. He had a 100 or higher average, then he took his national standardized AP tests to get college credit, and he failed two out of those three tests. Because of COVID, we didn’t get to cover all three modules he was tested on at Boone. Virtual learning is not learning.”

A called school board meeting will be held on Nov. 23 to discuss the school plan. The next regularly scheduled BOE meeting will be held on Dec. 10. To join in on the livestreamed meetings, go to wcde.org.