KCKPS students may be able to play fall sports in the spring

Kansas City, Kansas, Public School students who were hoping to play fall sports may get to play those sports next spring.

In a two-hour internet special meeting on Friday afternoon, the KCK school board voted unanimously to accept the Kansas State High School Activities Association proposal to participate in fall sports in the spring, if health conditions allow.

The district would have to meet gating criteria before any sports could take place. Those criteria include information such as the community’s positivity rate and other health information. That rate is the number of positive COVID-19 tests divided by the number of total tests. Currently, the number is over 17 percent in Wyandotte County, which is in the “red zone.”

On Sept. 8, the school board voted to allow student athletes to participate in conditioning or workouts beginning Sept. 14. That date has now been pushed back to Sept. 21 after a meeting with principals, district officials said at the board meeting.

The board’s 7-0 vote for the KSHSAA plan is not a guarantee that they will play sports, Board President Randy Lopez said at the meeting. The decision to play sports will be based on conditions closer to that time, he said. Today’s vote is giving the students an opportunity, he said.

The KCK school board had suspended fall sports and some activities because of the risk of COVID-19. The Unified Government Health Department issued an order Aug. 13 restricting fall sports in Wyandotte County and prohibiting football, volleyball, soccer and marching band events in Wyandotte County. The action was met with some student protests.

After some other local schools and clubs decided to go out of the county to play sports in other counties, the Health Department then issued more guidance on fall sports, on Sept. 4. Those who participate in sports outside of the county were asked to stay in their same “cohorts” while they are at school under the new guidelines.

Tammie Romstad, the district’s director of athletics, said that KSHSAA had offered an option of playing in the spring to schools that could not play sports in the fall. The option also would apply to schools that started sports in the fall but were unable to complete the season, she said.

Fall sports teams that are in Class 5A and 6A could compete in one class together in the spring, she said. The KSHSAA has made up a schedule that will be used in the spring if there are 50 percent or more of the schools that couldn’t compete in the fall.

If there are less than 50 percent, the district would make up its own schedule under the KSHSAA rules, she said. That could include a shortened season of perhaps five games where district schools play each other.

The school board also voted 5-2 to approve a proposal that would use the state gating criteria.

According to the proposal that was presented Sept. 8 by the district athletic director, and was discussed Sept. 11, a COVID-19 response team would evaluate the gating criteria, making a decision on Fridays for the next week, based on the previous two weeks.

The gating criteria would determine the start of the winter and spring sports, with winter sports practices scheduled to start Nov. 16, according to the proposal.

The members of the COVID-19 response team would be the district’s chief of staff, a medical specialist, a district nurse and the athletic director, according to the proposal.

Voting against the proposal were board members Dr. Valdenia Winn and Wanda Brownlee Paige.

“I’m concerned that the responsibility is not in the right hands, and the board should not be delegating, giving away its authority, so I vote no,” Dr. Winn said.

The passage of the gating criteria item takes the authority away from the school board and places it with school district personnel. Dr. Winn said the board and district have the liability for whatever happens as a result of the actions, and the committee does not.

According to Dr. Alicia Miguel, interim superintendent, the COVID-19 response team would be able to meet every Friday to discuss the gating criteria, while the school board typically does not meet every Friday. It meets every two weeks on Tuesday evenings, with special meetings added if needed.

When asked, the school board’s attorney said during the meeting that a school district committee would not be subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act. The meetings would not be public meetings, according to the attorney. If they were school board meetings, or board committees, they would be open to the public, according to the attorney.

Janey Humphries, a board member, proposed a motion that would have at least one board member represented on the district’s COVID-19 response team, and that a report be made to the school board members after the end of each of the team’s meetings.

The vote was 4-3 to add a board member and to have a report to the board. Voting in favor were Yolanda Clark, Janey Humphries, Wanda Brownlee Paige and Dr. Valdenia Winn, and voting against it were Maxine Drew, Dr. Stacey Yeager and Randy Lopez.

Romstad also discussed some plans to help students with a “showcase” presentation that they can use to show college coaches. The showcase presentation would include information about the students’ athleticism and skills such as speed and strength. It might include some film clips from their previous years on the team. The showcase might be worked on during the conditioning sessions.

In other action, the school board also approved an update to board policies on bullying, intimidation and retaliation. The policies are online on the Sept. 11 meeting agenda at https://go.boarddocs.com/ks/kckps/Board.nsf/vpublic?open, items 2A and 2B.

KCK school board votes to allow sports workouts next week

The Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education voted 4-3 Tuesday night to allow sports workouts to begin on Monday, Sept. 14.

In a marathon board meeting lasting almost six hours on Tuesday, which also was the first day of school in the district, the board approved one of three recommendations from the school district’s athletic director, Tammie Romstad.

The motion by board member Stacey Yeager was to allow student athletes to start working out on Sept. 14 if they attended class and turned in their assignments.

Voting for the recommendation were Yolanda Clark, Randy Lopez, Maxine Drew and Dr. Yeager. Voting against the recommendation were Janey Humphries, Wanda Brownlee Paige and Dr. Valdenia Winn.

The school board previously suspended all fall KSHSAA sports and activities in the Kansas City, Kansas, school district because of COVID-19. That suspension, along with earlier Unified Government Health Department guidelines on sports, was the subject of student protests in August in Wyandotte County. The early sports recommendations from the Health Department came out Aug. 13, with newer guidelines on sports out on Sept. 4. School started on Tuesday in the Kansas City, Kansas, school district, but all classes were remote.

During her presentation, Romstad told the board that allowing practices to resume could be a way to motivate students to attend class and turn in their assignments.

The board members asked for more clarification on the plan to be presented at a special board meeting at 3 p.m. Friday, about what the attendance requirement means for each student, and also about how student athletes would get transportation to and from practices.

During the presentation, district officials mentioned that the district had been holding workouts during the summer when Wyandotte County had a 20 percent COVID-19 positivity rate. One day during that time, the county had a 29 percent rate, according to Romstad.

Dr. Winn was aghast at the positivity rates during the summer. “I’ll take the high road and say we dodged the bullet over the summer,” she said. “We were still allowing students to participate and the numbers were as high as 20 percent?”

“Did the board know what was going on?” Dr. Winn asked. “I’ll say no, I didn’t,” she added. She did not think they should have had workouts with such a high county positivity rate.

Board member Wanda Brownlee Paige wanted to wait for more information, as she said they were getting different numbers about the positivity rates.

The positivity rate reported by the Unified Government COVID-19 webpage was 17.6 percent on Sept. 8. However, district officials said they were told on Tuesday the number was lower.

Board member Maxine Drew said that she believes the numbers they heard in the report have been very low. She agreed with interim Superintendent Alicia Miguel that it was necessary to find some way to address the issue of students being present in classes.

Two other sports recommendations were not adopted at Tuesday night’s meeting, and will be taken up on Friday, according to the board.

The second recommendation, not adopted at this time, was to create transparency with students and parents through the Kansas State Department of Education gating criteria. The criteria were recommended to be used to determine when it is safe for each sport to start or suspend, using data from the local community.

The third recommendation, also not adopted at this time, was to accept the KSHSAA proposal to participate in fall sports in the spring, if health conditions allow.

Health Department issues new guidelines for schools and sports

The Unified Government Health Department issued some new guidelines for schools and sports on Friday.

The new recommendations include cohorting for students who engage in group activities outside of Wyandotte County. There is also guidance for non-school sports and activities, including private clubs.

UG Health Department staff members have discussed the guidelines with representatives of the local school districts, according to a spokesman. The guidelines are intended to promote COVID-19 safety during in-person learning while student athletes and other activities groups continue to compete outside of Wyandotte County, the spokesman stated.

This guidance applies to group activities in which students engage in practice, events, or competitions outside Wyandotte County (for example, – sports play or practice sanctioned by their school, private club, or other activity involving close contact that may put participants at higher risk for COVID-19), according to the Health Department officials.

The recommendations included staying together in one cohort while the student is playing school team sports. For example, during the school day a student could stay together with teammates in a classroom, with a coach as the instructor. There are other recommendations, as well.

Districts respond

In Wyandotte County, there have been different approaches to sports this fall. The Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools suspended all fall KSHSAA sports in order to keep students safe and reduce exposure to COVID-19. The Piper school district had scheduled away football games for the season, including a game tonight at Ottawa.

The school boards will make the decisions for each district on returning to sports.

Edwin Birch, a spokesman for the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools, said they haven’t discussed the new recommendations yet and will review them when they return from the Labor Day holiday break on Tuesday. The Kansas City, Kansas district has already decided to have virtual classes for the first nine weeks of school.

The Piper school district, according to Jenny Hurley, a spokesman, has reviewed the guidance released this afternoon.

“Our current procedures, including cohorting students and activity-based cohorts are directly in line with the recommendations issued today,” Hurley said in the statement. “We will continue to work closely with parents of those students participating in activities outside of school, such as club sports teams, if they wish to move their students from hybrid to remote learning based on the recommendation of the Wyandotte County Health Department.”

Dr. Jason Dandoy, Turner superintendent of schools, also had a statement:
“Turner USD 202 appreciates guidance from the Wyandotte County Health Department. Our current student cohorts were built based on activities and instructional content preferences of students,” Dr. Dandoy stated. “We will continue to review our student cohorts to ensure that groups have as little contact as possible. We are excited to welcome students back to a safe learning environment next week.”

More details about the new recommendations

The new recommendations for fall activities, from the Health Department:

• Maintain cohorts for the fall semester
A “cohort” is a group of students and a limited number of faculty/staff that remain together for classroom instruction and school activities, without intermingling with students, teachers, and staff from other cohorts. It is best practice for students to stay in one cohort throughout the fall semester. Doing so reduces the mixing of students, and thus, the potential spread of COVID-19 should an outbreak of the virus occur (that is, – if one cohort has a case of COVID-19, the other cohorts are at lower risk).

• Cohort activity groups together for classroom instruction (for example, – a sports team also has class together) or consider remote learning
The UGPHD strongly recommends student activity group cohorting for both sports and in-person academic programming. If this cannot be achieved, the UGPHD strongly recommends remote learning for students participating in Out-of-County activities.

• Have activity coaches act as teachers/instructors for their activity cohorts
An “activity cohort” is a group of students who practice and participate in the same sport or activity, who attend school together and are then grouped in classrooms with their teammates. These cohort classrooms should involve activity coaches as teachers/instructors. If this cannot be achieved, the UGPHD strongly recommends remote learning for students participating in out-of-county activities.

• Allow students learning remotely to return to regular school cohorts after the activity season
It is best practice for those students to remain in a remote learning environment as long as they are participating in the club, extracurricular, or non-school sponsored restricted sports activities. They should only be allowed back into regular school learning cohorts after their season has ended, and 14 days have passed since they last participated in practices or competition.

Recommendations for non-school activities, such as private clubs:

• Opt into remote learning options
Remote learning modalities are strongly encouraged for students who engage in any club, extracurricular, or non-school sponsored activities currently restricted within Wyandotte County as an alternate option to activity cohorts. For those students, the UGPHD strongly encourages remote learning programs offered by that district.

“Our top priority in Wyandotte County is to allow our children to learn safely in an in-person environment,” said Dr. Allen Greiner, chief medical officer with the Unified Government, in a news release. “But we recognize that some parents want to allow their student-athletes to continue to compete outside of Wyandotte County. Today’s recommendations are our best effort to maintain safe in-person learning for the majority of students, while also creating a pathway for student-athletes to continue with both their education and their athletic pursuits.”

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment this week reported 1,328 new COVID-19 cases between Monday and Wednesday. That brings the total number of cases in Kansas to 43,490, including 15 sports clusters responsible for causing 119 cases.

On Aug. 24, KDHE reported that statewide, there were 34 new cases reported in the 0-9 year old age group and 79 new cases statewide in the 10-17 age group. That KDHE data showed that, at that time, the 10-17 year old age group in Wyandotte County was testing positive at 18.1 percent, which was significantly higher than neighboring Johnson County, where youth 10-17 were testing positive at a rate of 6.81 percent. Several cases of COVID-19 in children have been traced to participation in youth sports.

“KDHE has tracked 10 COVID-19 clusters in Kansas that were related to youth sports this summer, including one current cluster of five people associated with a Kansas City, Kansas volleyball team,” explained Dr. Erin Corriveau, deputy medical officer with the Unified Government. “We recognize that said-athletes want to play and compete, and their parents want that for them. We feel that if this new guidance is followed by schools and student-athletes who are competing outside of Wyandotte County, we can further ensure a safe in-person learning environment for all children within Wyandotte County schools.”

According to Health Department officials, the recommendations are intended to accomplish three objectives:
• Prevent a spike in positive COVID-19 cases due to exposure through certain sports and other activities in which it is difficult to maintain social distancing and/or wear masks the whole time
• Provide consistent guidance for all non-professional sports at all levels, and
• Reduce the possibility of more restrictive future measures

Janell Friesen, a spokesman for the Health Department, said they already were encouraging cohorting by classrooms, so that students who are attending classes in person are not going from classroom to classroom. This takes it a step further, she said. Athletes who attend away games and come back to classrooms could put a large number of students at risk and possibly shut down a school, so that’s why there is a recommendation for the athletes to stay together in one classroom.

Different schools will have different set-ups for how they are handling instruction, she added. Some districts have mostly remote instruction, while others are planning in-person instruction. Some have a combination of the methods.

The community is reminded to limit social interaction wherever possible, maintain 6 feet of social distancing, and to wear a mask at all times when in public, according to Health Department officials. By working together, everyone can limit the number of new positive COVID-19 cases in Wyandotte County, according to the officials.

Testing is available for individuals who live or work in Wyandotte County if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact (within six feet for at least 10 minutes) with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Testing is available at multiple community locations, including the Public Health Department at 619 Ann Ave., and through weekly “pop-up” sites coordinated by the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force. To find the latest testing sites and schedules, visit wycokck.org/COVID-19.

For additional data and resources on COVID-19 in Wyandotte County, visit wycokck.org/COVID-19 or call 3-1-1.