November 26, 2020REGION — On Monday Nov. 16, North Country Superintendents, high school Athletic Directors and High School Principals met virtually for a meeting. Part of the discussion was in regards to the winter sports programs, and how or if they will proceed.
Berlin's Superintendent, Julie King, stressed that communication among school districts is key.
She said, "Communication between our districts during this planning stage is vitally important to ensuring we are all on the same page with protective factors and protocols."
She went on to say, "We are so fortunate to have such a great group of Athletic Directors here in the North Country. It was apparent in our meeting just how dedicated they are toward working together to plan a winter sports season for our students, one that keeps everyone as safe as possible. We all recognize how important sports are for the mental and emotional well-being of our students, but it must be safe for them, the coaches, the officials and the community, as a whole."
SAU 36 Athletic Director Kerry Brady noted that common guidelines will be beneficial.
She said, "Having common guidelines will control as many variables as possible to hopefully complete a winter season for student athletes."
Superintendent for SAU 58, Ronna Cadarette noted that the objective was to keep everyone safe, and continue to educate in person whenever possible.
To that end, she said, "We can do this while recognizing the role that extracurricular activities play in developing and supporting well-rounded students."
Cadarette said the meeting was productive and positive.
She noted that strong consideration was given to the fact that districts are choosing to go remote due to increased travel during Thanksgiving and Christmas/Holiday breaks.
"We discussed the mitigation of exposure due to interactions with larger than usual groups and family visits. In addition, we researched and shared the guidelines for athletics in the New England states, those of the NHIAA, and the requests and expectations of our transportation companies," said Cadarette.
While discussing and reviewing the medical guidance for the area, the group noted that the challenge in Coös County is that the seven day positivity rate is currently at 4.9%, per 100,000 residents.
Cadarette said, "There are cases reported daily throughout our region. We will continually monitor the data, but have an outline for play for JV and Varsity teams. Skill and Drill may begin November 30, Practice December 14, and Games January 11 per the NHIAA."
She relayed that Districts will keep those dates in mind as the possible first days to begin, but could push them out further depending on community conditions and data.
"Superintendents work in conjunction with their local School Boards to make the best decisions with all data. We are hopeful that the same standards and expectations are set for elementary and middle school students for consistency as their health and wellness is equally as important. It is vital that schools remember that the potential exposure of athletes can lead to COVID-19 in our schools where it has not previously existed or to very little extent," noted Cadarette.
Districts discussed an attempt to start elementary students sooner to finish before high school and Middle Schools may also begin earlier. According to Cadarette, challenges there would include the availability of coaches, the cost of extra custodial staff for sanitization between groups, facility availability, scheduling time for half an hour in between, monitoring student groups and families outside of the facilities to mitigate intermingling, and schools reported using parts of their facilities for storage of classroom furniture and equipment.
She noted, "This storage has been so there is six ft of social distancing whenever possible throughout the school day. Scheduling with these considerations will be more challenging than ever before."
A key issue would be the availability of officials if fans are present. Talk of live stream took place.
Cadarette said, "We recognize the importance of this cherished past-time and the social-emotional impact on our towns. Although we have a list of guidelines for the North Country, some schools may receive directives to be more strict and some more lenient depending on their Boards, which could impact the ability to have teams to play."
Non-negotiable terms were outlined by the group, those are as follows: All athletes, officials, and coaches must wear masks at all times, there will be no fans at all events, there will be no events below the notch except for Lin-wood. (This does not include hockey, which will abide by arena guidelines and a Nordic Ski event in Plymouth.) Tournament locations and participation will be determined at a later date with consideration of current conditions. If schools are remote due to a spike of positive cases and increased exposure in the school community, there will be no games or practices. Transportation will transport using COVID guidelines; however, they will not transport to a town that has more than 19 COVID cases. Locker rooms will not be used by athletes. Scheduling will be done on an individual school basis and communicated by AD's through the region, (including Middle School sports). All AD's will keep open communication with the School Boards. Alpine Skiing: - six schools have ski programs- with no more than 80 people at a race - no fans - the schedule is set - there will be a State Meet. Racers must wear masks. Teams race in the same seed (1-10, 11-20, etc. per school) Nov 30 skills; Dec 14 practice; January 11 start. Wrestling and cheerleading are both in the high risk category, and no plans have been laid out as of yet.