Some high school sports allowed as Springfield students, teachers stay home due to COVID

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SPRINGFIELD — There will be football practice this fall, but there will be no tackling.

While students and teachers are not being allowed back to the classroom yet due to the coronavirus pandemic, the School Committee voted Thursday to allow some high school sports activity this fall.

At Thursday’s meeting, the School Committee approved policies related to the remote learning program affecting all public schools in Springfield for the first quarter of the school year.

The committee also voted 7-0 to allow a modified sports program that allows soccer games, golf and cross-country, as well as football and cheerleading practices, under specific conditions aimed at protecting student safety.

School Committee member Denise Hurst said the sports program was developed in accordance with state guidelines, but said it did lead to some concerns.

“We do have some concerns and some pause,” Hurst said. “Just because we want to make sure we keep our students safe. We also understand that there might be some sentiments around, you know, if this is a mixed message. We’ve gone remote, but yet we’re still letting our students play sports.”

Golf and cross-country are designated “low risk” activities for COVID-19 given their outdoor environments, school officials said.

Football practices and soccer games are also being allowed, but the School Department is adopting state guidelines including requiring social distancing as much as possible. Players’ temperatures will be taken in advance of transportation and play.

Soccer is listed as a “moderate” risk sport. Under the adopted state guidelines, players are required to wear masks and cannot shake hands, and must try to maintain a distance of 6 feet. Benches are not to be used during practices.

Football games and volleyball are being postponed until March or April, as they are deemed “high risk” sports for COVID-19 transmission, officials said

As recommended by Athletic Director Dwayne Early and Superintendent Daniel Warwick, the School Committee adopted guidelines allowing football practices including: no contact, no helmets or pads, keeping the players in groups of 10, and separating the players by at least 14 feet.

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, chairman of the School Committee, said the requirements go “above and beyond” state recommendations.

Cheerleading practices will also occur, but cheer “stunts” are not permitted, in order to avoid contact.

The transportation of school athletes by bus will be done with expanded protections to make sure the buses are not overcrowded, such as providing an extra bus when necessary, officials said.

Hurst, in a sentiment echoed by other School Committee members, said the policy to allow some sports was adopted “mindful of the need for students to have social and emotional engagement and social interaction,” as well as exercise.

“I do understand the importance of allowing our children an opportunity to socialize and exercise and really be able to get ready for that season,” Hurst said.

School Committee member Peter Murphy, while supporting the plan, questioned how coaches will keep hundreds of football players at local high schools in 10-player groups and at safe distances.

Early said there are sufficient numbers of coaches, volunteers and athletic fields to safely serve the students.

State guidelines on modified sports were provided by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

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