Sullivan County schools could return to scholastic activities in a limited capacity on June 1, according to a Return to Action Plan that was released on Monday by the Northeast Tennessee School Systems.
According to Sullivan East principal Andy Hare, more than 20 school systems from Morristown to Mountain City have drafted a proposal to allow scholastic activities to begin in less than two weeks.
The goals listed are to (1) maintain safe and healthy communities; (2) position our region for a return to normal scholastic activities in the fall; and (3) safely return our students and instructors to scholastic activities.
“All the school systems in that range have got together and agreed to come up with a guideline and they all follow the same protocol,” said Hare, who added that the guidelines are the same for all schools, no matter the classification.
Hare, who expects the Sullivan County Board of Education to approve the measure, plans to meet once more with the head coaches at Sullivan East and then announce policies to students on Friday.
All sports and other scholastic activities can take advantage of the return.
“We want to put the emphasis on the fall sports right away, but it is for all activities,” he said. “It is not just limited to athletics, we are talking for band and ROTC and other groups that get together. We are all going to follow this for all activities.”
That means that on June 1, scholastic organizations will be able to meet in limited capacity, with rules that must be followed in terms of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing rules must be followed and masks could be required for certain activities.
“It will be in groups no larger than 10 and that is including the coach. We are thinking about football or baseball possibly, you could have one coach, nine players,” said Hare, who said most of the activities will take place outside, although indoor sports like basketball could have limited indoor activity, with more cleaning and disinfecting required in those cases.
“The issue is there is no contact so there is going to have to be a lot of individual work for right now.”
Numerous details will be followed, beginning with drive-up testing in which each student must have a temperature under 100 degrees. If too high, they will be sent home and will not be allowed to return for three days, and then must have documented proof that their temperature has remained at proper levels.
There are daily questions to be answered as well.
“Basically, are you feeling OK today, do you have any unexplained cough, have you left the area, have you been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 or have yourself had COVID-19,” said Hare, who said activity times would be staggered, with the length of workouts expected to be an hour or possibly an hour and a half to start. “You answer those questions every day before you get started and then you go to your respective area to do your workouts.”
Sullivan East is slated to return to school on Aug. 3, and Hare is hopeful it could happen. If for some reason that isn’t possible, the date will simply be changed.
“We will see, we have had great results here these last few days with the reporting,” he said. “Maybe we can accelerate the time of recovery through the phases and maybe we will be ready. I hope so.”
Fall sports, including football, volleyball and more can begin fall preparations after the TSSAA-mandated two-week dead period that runs from June 21 through July 4.
“We want to be as safe as possible because healthy and safety is paramount, that is the number one concern, but we also know sometimes the health and safety is equally important for physical health as mental health,” Hare said. “This can help create some normalcy and help people get back in a routine, but again, following the guidelines.”
The Virginia High School League said in a Tuesday press release it is working on plans to reopen fall athletics and activities with the assistance of numerous government and health agencies, with all efforts focused first on the health, safety and well-being of all involved.
According to the release, the VHSL will begin meeting with the Coach Advisory Committees of fall sports to begin developing reopening plans, including when and how activities will return, in addition to developing multiple plans related to start dates, safety measures for resuming practices, regular season schedules and state playoffs for fall sports.
In all instances, according to the VHSL, reopening will only happen in accordance to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s directives on when schools can reopen, when practice can begin and when schools can return to competition.
No timetable was provided on when any of that might occur.
“What we have been doing and will continue to do, is to strongly advocate for our student-athletes in a reopening of fall sports and activities. We know much has been taken away from our students by the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to advocate for them and the return of high school sports and activities,” VHSL Executive Director Billy Haun said, in the release. “It is important to say, and many already have, as we develop plans there are more questions than answers. Because of that, we cannot put a timeline on when decisions will be completed and announced to the public until many of those questions become answerable.
“We continue to fully support our Governor’s directives, work with advisory groups, government agencies, other states and medical experts to come up with a safe and sound plan to implement sports and activities for the fall.”
Virginia High athletic director Brad Harper was pleased that the VHSL came out with a statement, just one day after neighboring Tennessee schools met to begin the process of returning to normal activities with limitations.
“I think it’s pretty straight forward. As an athletic director on a bordering state line where Tennessee’s plans to return to play is much more aggressive I was pleased that the VHSL offered this statement,” Harper said. “I am supportive of Dr. Haun and the league’s approach. We certainly want to keep safety for all involved as the number one priority.
“From a personal and competitive standpoint it kind of boils down to the same issues that the businesses on State Street have been facing. The ones on the Tennessee side have gained a competitive advantage compared to the ones on the Virginia side. At this point in terms of return to play at the high school level I think it’s kind of the same thing.”