ABINGTON -- After a lengthy discussion, the Abington School Board voted August 25 in favor of continuation of all fall athletics programs.
Ultimately, the board voted 7-2 in favor of moving forward in accordance with the Montgomery County Office of Public Health’s Guidance for Sports updated August 25 and the district’s previously enacted Athletics Health and Safety Plan albeit modified to include football. The board also voted 9-0 to authorize provision of transportation services to students in the district who attend non-public schools within 10 miles of the district boundary.
“It’s not a matter of a simple ‘let’s play’ or ‘let’s not play’ sort of thing,” board member Daniel Sean Kaye said. “It’s a lot more complicated than that.”
Issues of contention on Tuesday centered on the district’s summer workout programs, the jump from controlled team training to intra-school competition and how the designation of high-risk sports fit into updated Montgomery County guidance. The new county guidance was developed by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Policy Lab and created four thresholds of guidance based on test positivity rate.
As of an August 20, Abington was at 3% positivity, which fell right in the middle of the second-lowest threshold. Under the guidance, labeled “stable or declining,” lower-contact sports such as golf, cross-country and tennis and moderate-contact sports including soccer and field hockey could seek competition with local teams falling in the same threshold.
That left football on the outside, which board member Raymond McGarry noted created several issues.
“There aren’t black and white lines, there is gray area as far as I’m concerned,” McGarry said. “If we were to follow Montgomery County guidance and football were the only sport that could not continue, there would be a disproportionate impact on our Black students based on numbers from last year.
“Based on last year’s numbers, about half the football team were Black athletes and of all the Black athletes who competed in fall sports, half of them were on the football team.”
While the board considered postponing a vote on football, or passing a resolution to proceed with the ability to come back and rescind it with further data, ultimately the board decided to amend the county guidance and include football in Tuesday’s vote. The board felt it wouldn’t have been fair to ask football players to wait an additional amount of time or deliver promising news only to take it away at a later date.
“The extensions are excruciating and to not vote tonight is a disservice,” Board Vice President Jennifer O’Rourke said. “We need to vote what we feel is correct and allow the community to move forward.”
Kaye requested the district create a testing protocol for athletes when competition begins. Additionally, Board Member Adam Share pushed for a separate permission slip for parents of athletes to further reiterate the understanding they would be choosing to proceed and participate despite the risk the coronavirus presents.
Both measures were added to the resolution before voting.
“My position on this really boils down to what’s the limit of my authority to tell these students that they can’t do this, as well as the harm and equity issues, which are real,” Share said. “We’ve heard from 300 parents and students who feel strongly enough about this to write to us and I’m sure there’s another 300 who feel the same way and didn’t write. That’s where I come down on it, what’s the extent of our responsibility as board members?”
The board received a presentation recapping the summer timeline of PIAA and state decisions as well as the district’s four-phase restart to team workouts. Of the teams that held practices over the summer, none reported any positive COVID-19 tests although the board did raise concerns about how to maintain that level of control when Abington teams begin competing with other schools’ programs.
“Professional sports leagues and Division I leagues have vastly more resources than we have and they still struggle with the viability of a season and keeping their players safe from infection,” board member Melissa Mowry said. “We are a public school district and have limited resources, so how do we do what those organizations have not been able to do?”
Kaye, McGarry, Share, O’Rourke, Shameeka Brown, Jocelyn Pickford and Brian Allen voted yes while Mowry and Tamar Klaiman voted no on the resolution.
The Suburban One League, of which Abington is a member, has issued a practice start date of August 31 for golf, girls’ tennis, cross country, field hockey, girls’ volleyball and soccer with golf able to begin competition Sept. 3, tennis on Sept. 8 and the other sports on Sept. 21.
Football can begin a mandatory heat acclimatization week on Sept. 14 with the first game date in October.