In a change from its previous action not to allow fall sports, the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education voted 5-2 Tuesday night to approve winter sports, including basketball.
The Unified Government Health Department had recommended that schools not play indoor winter sports because of the risk of COVID-19.
Practices can begin Jan. 4, with games starting Jan. 18. The action applies only to high schools, according to board members. The board will require all athletes and their parents to sign a statement that they are aware of the Health Department recommendation, whatever it is at the time they sign the waiver.
On Oct. 30 the Health Department issued winter sports guidelines recommending against indoor sports because of the risk of transmitting COVID-19, especially the risk among spectators.
It also issued guidance for school districts that decide to play winter sports, including number of fans allowed and cohorting athletes.
Students have been writing messages to the board and also sending messages to local media that they want to play sports. At one point, they held up signs outside the Health Department letting them know about it.
Yolanda Clark, a board member who voted for winter sports, said her vote means they are trusting parents to make the decisions for their students.
Wanda Brownlee Paige, who voted against the motion, said she wanted everyone to be safe and that meant a lot to her.
Dr. Stacy Yeager said she wanted equity and equality with the other districts around them that have been playing sports successfully. It is very important for students to get that opportunity to play sports, she said.
Dr. Valdenia Winn, who voted against the motion, said the positivity rate remains too high in Wyandotte County, and this pandemic is not under control. Not only Wyandotte County, but also the state of Kansas is now spiking, she said.
Dr. Winn said the UG’s current positivity rate was listed at 17 percent on the UG Health Department website.
District officials presenting the proposal to go ahead with winter sports said they looked at gating criteria from the state of Kansas, and Wyandotte County was listed at lower numbers in the KDHE statistics.
District health officials explained that the KDHE was counting all the tests given to people in the county, even if it was to the same person several times, while the UG Health Department was only counting people one time, even if they had five tests that week. The way the state calculated the figures made the rate appear lower than the UG’s figures, according to the district health official.
Paige said she saw presentations today that said the state and hospitals COVID-19 rates are going off the chart. The U.S. also has a problem and seems to act like they don’t, she said.
Janey Humphries, who voted yes, said since they’re not starting practice until Jan. 4, after the holidays, it would all be subject to change according to what the health conditions are at that time.
Tammie Romstad, district athletic director, presented information that most of the schools in Kansas were playing sports. There were 38 COVID-19 sports clusters in Kansas, which resulted in 338 positive COVID-19 cases, one hospitalization and one death, according to her information.
According to Romstad, Turner, Bonner Springs and Piper schools have told the district they will be playing winter sports, and will wear masks at all times, even while competing. There will be no spectators and each gym will be limited to 45 people only. Bishop Ward High School is planning on playing at home when possible and will wear masks, according to Romstad. There will be no spectators.
At the time they talked to the district officials, Johnson County schools were planning to compete in all sports, wearing masks off the court, with limited spectators, according to Romstad.
The Kansas City, Missouri schools were planning to compete in all sports, with masks on only when they are off courts, and limited spectators.
Romstad said wrestling is not included in the sports that they will start on Jan. 4. Because it is high risk, they will reevaluate it on Jan. 4, she said.
Bowling, swimming and basketball practices will start Jan. 4, according to Romstad.
The athletes will continue conditioning in November through Dec. 18, following mitigation procedures, she said.
The delay of winter sports practices until Jan. 4 will allow for students to focus on their grades, Romstad said. By not competing for the first two weeks, they will have time not to mix the teams until after 14 days of practice, with plenty of time to quarantine players after holiday gatherings, according to Romstad. They will be allowed to compete in post-season with a smaller number of games in the schedule, she said.
There will be no spectators at winter games, Romstad said.
With no spectators allowed, the KCKPS high school games will be live-streamed for home games, according to Romstad.