Between the school and athletic department’s COVID-19 protocols being well thought out and thus far having prevented spread of the virus, the district’s plan to implement testing for high-risk athletes and coaches, the guidance to quarantine any winter high-risk team for 10 days if a member tests positive and a strong consideration for the mental well-being of student-athletes led the Edgemont Board of Education to approve practices and competitions for basketball, ice hockey and wrestling beginning Wednesday, Feb. 10.
The board voted on each sport separately after a lengthy discussion and public comment at the board of education meeting Tuesday, Feb. 9.
Nilesh Jain voted against all three sports, while Pamela Montgomery voted against ice hockey and wrestling. Jain was having connectivity issues and sent in a brief statement, which concluded with, “I personally have low tolerance for risk and high concerns for safety and health. My conscience does not allow to vote for it, but my objections are not personal or against anyone. If anything, I only have all the good wishes and best of luck for participants.”
Many of the board members said they felt differently about high-risk sports when they started examining the issue further last week in preparation for the board meeting. Board president Alec Clarke said it was a “compressed time frame” that led to “countless hours of discussions” in order for the board “to educate ourselves on this.”
Prior to the vote, Clarke said, “Wherever we end up voting tonight I don’t think any of us didn’t start this process with some really serious reservations … So I don’t think you should assume anyone who votes for it doesn’t recognize that there are still risks that are happening here, but for those who vote yes … they’ve been able to get comfortable.”
Athletic director Anthony DeRosa has worked with each sport’s coaches to put together in-depth safety plans and protocols, many of which have already been in place during off-season noncontact workouts in December and January.
DeRosa said boys basketball was similar to last winter at 33 players, girls basketball slightly down to 21, wrestling down from about 40 to 30 and ice hockey, which is a merged team with Eastchester, Tuckahoe and Bronxville had four players who were also on the team last year.
School board vice president Judy Seiff, in explaining to various parents many of the specific protocols for each of the sports, ended up feeling better herself about the situation. She also expressed faith in the school’s coaches to provide as safe an environment as possible.
“I will be voting to support the high-risk sports because I am so keenly aware of how important it is to the emotional and mental health of the student-athletes who really are, in some cases, absolutely chomping at the bit to participate and in and of itself that doesn’t drive the decision, but as an athlete myself I understand the need to engage,” she said. “Insofar as concern about spread among the nonathletes in school, I have total confidence that the strictures that the school district has put in place will continue to appropriately safeguard everybody else in the district.”
Board member Pamela Montgomery was concerned about the other students who come into contact with high-risk sports athletes.
“There have been a bunch of cases in and out of school, but within the school, the protocols that we’ve been following … [have] really done an amazing job, as far as I can tell, of keeping people safe and keeping the virus from spreading within the school,” she said.
Superintendent Victoria Kniewel said the Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed there has been no in-school spread and talked about the testing protocols that will be in place and are still being worked out. She said the state has promised testing kits at no cost to school districts.
“Most of the parents had already given consent because of the last time we sent out the letter when we thought we’d have to test everyone on a percentage rotation,” Kniewel said. “So, yes, we’re developing that plan right now with the Department of Health and with our school physician.”
School board member Jennifer DeMarrais’ “primary concern” is the student sitting next to the high-risk athlete in class, but she said that testing helps her feel more comfortable as the “primary goal” is to “keep the kids in school.”
“We actually do have that latitude also if we see infections rising, if we start seeing transmission in school, we have that latitude to shut it down,” Kniewel said. “I wouldn’t want to have to do that, but I’m expecting everyone’s going to be really good at following all the protocols.”
After watching her son play in the fall season, DeMarrais said she is highly concerned about other schools’ attitudes toward masking. Kniewel said DeRosa was quick to act and will continue to be vigilant about rules.
“One of the things that I have to say about our particular student-athletes is they were extremely diligent in following the protocols,” DeRosa said. “That’s why I have no doubt that our students will follow the protocols. And they were just as quick to point out when other students were not following the protocols. They brought it to the attention of the coaches, who brought it to my attention ... We tried to address the situations as soon as they came up.”
Board member Monica Sganga said she is “very risk adverse” and added, “This is not for me.” That said, she is putting her faith in the administration to keep kids safe as they rely heavily on sports for “their own personal development.”
“But what is most important to me is that this does not adversely affect education in the classroom, or any other students and families that do not want to assume the risk,” she said. “And so, my support of this is with the understanding that the protocols we have in place in the classroom are working and that we’ll continue to adhere to those protocols. And so then I have confidence that the other students will be safe.”
Board member Mariquita Blumberg stressed the importance of families sticking to the COVID code of conduct. If that happens she said it will “affect our ability” to later give the thumbs up for Fall 2 and spring high-risk sports.
Seven parents made public comments expressly in support of approving the wrestling program, many touting and trusting the guidance of coach Pete Jacobson.
One parent asked if high-risk sports could spread “beyond a level that jeopardizes the rest of the school year,” suggesting waiting “for the majority of the school community to be vaccinated.”
Kniewel said the district is working to get all those who work in the schools vaccinated as soon as possible, and added, “If we see a spread or any kind of uptick we would be able to cancel or whatever we have to do to get back on the track that we’re on now … Just like school provides a safer environment for kids to get together, I believe athletics will provide a safer environment than an unorganized outside-of-school activity.”
A wrestling parent asked about fall sports spread of COVID-19. DeRosa said the only positive test of an athlete in the fall — though many had to quarantine due to possible exposure — was after the season when a student was preparing to travel for Thanksgiving.