By a 4-3 vote Thursday night, the Delaware State Board of Education approved a plan to allow fall high school sports to begin with practices Sept. 28 and games in October.
In order for schools to play, the board had to sign off on the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association’s flipflop on Emergency Resolution 1010/
The DIAA in August said fall sports would be moved to 2021, in between shortened seasons of winter and spring sports. But last week, the board reversed its position after the state said fall sports could be played with masks and other COVID-19 precautions. and Gov. John Carney — who frequently reminds people that he played sports in school — said publicly he thought the DIAA should re-examine its position.
The DIAA change required the approval of the state Board of Education before it could be sent to school districts. Each now can decide whether or not it wants to field teams.
The Board of Education vote during its virtual meeting Thursday followed nearly three and one-half hours of reviewing the changes and questioning the four DIAA board members who attended the virtual meeting. They included DIAA board president Bradley Layfield; executive director Donna Polk; Dr. Brad Bley, a board member and head of the DIAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee; and Kevin Fitzgerald, who is also superintendent of Caesar Rodney School District.
In addition, the Board of Education also heard from 10 parents, nine of whom supported playing now. Among them were Frank Dowling, who helped spearhead the DIAA campaign “Let Them Play This Fall” petition, which had nearly 6,000 signatures by Thursday night, and Kelly Boettcher, who created the Facebook page for high school sports athletes and parents to urge Gov. John Carney and the Division of Public Health to give children a choice in whether to play.
Those voting in favor of the resolution were Vincent Lofink, Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, Candice Fifer and the Rev. Provy Powell, Jr. Lofink made the motion to accept the revision, with Bunting quickly seconding. Those voting against the resolution were board president Whitney Sweeney, vice president Wali Rushdan II and Dr. Audrey Noble.
Sweeney, Rushdan and Noble all expressed concern about the equity of the decision, whether that was athletes who might have trouble participating without school support, or might be in a district that chose not to offer sports, or because it was unfair to allow one group of students to participate in extracurricular activities and not allow others.
In voting yes, Lofink said that the BOE should let district superintendents and school boards make their decisions.
“We have this current recommendation from DIAA and we’ve heard their reasons and their good rationale tonight,” Lofink said. “I think it’s an appropriate decision for the local boards. That’s just my opinion.”
Noble and Rushdan were passionate in their questoning and comments before casting their nay votes.
“I’m still not clear about how the circumstances regarding kids returning to sports has changed in just one month since DIAA strongly supported the delayed schedule,” Noble said.
The science has not changed and the spread of the virus hasn’t diminished, she said.
“Actually we’re seeing increases in the most recent tracking data on our positivity rates since the beginning of September,” Noble said. “We know a lot of that has to do with the colleges reopening and other events of that type.”
She said she doubted schools and districts are ready to safely start fall sports, especially because they were told last month that they would be delayed until December.
“Most importantly, I think the core of this decision is the rights of individuals and the responsibility to the community – the interest of some vs. the common good of all,” Noble said. “As a member of the state board, I believe we need to be committed to supporting equitable policies that represent all members of our educational community -– not just athletes, but all students and their families and educators and staff.
“All of whom are still vulnerable to this terrible disease.”
Rushdan agreed that sports provide a vital role in a child’s educational experience, but pointed out that participation in sports is a privilege, not a right.
“Sports are not a constitutional obligation like the education of our children is,” he said. “Although we were experiencing sports in a very direct way without interruption like we are now, it is a privilege and we need to understand that. This is something that is secondary to the educational role that the schools play that to me is the most important component of our work.”