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Rules for school sports due to COVID-19 in the works, Kentucky superintendents told

As the usual opening practice dates for fall sports approach, Kentucky school districts are concerned about how to operate athletic programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioner Julian Tackett of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) answered some imminent questions Tuesday during the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) weekly Special Superintendents’ Webcast.

“We are rolling toward having fall sports,” Tackett said. “Now what that looks like could change every day.”

The KHSAA board will discuss several potential eligibility rule changes on July 10, he said. Those could provide flexibility for sports participation as methods of counting enrollment and teaching change. Kentucky sports officials are watching other states that are restarting athletic programs and it is likely sports may shut down intermittently due to COVID-19 risks, Tackett said.

“Right now we are moving along with playing our regular six sports in the fall, period,” he said. But, he reiterated, that could change rapidly depending on the course of COVID-19 infections.

As long as a district verifies enrollment at a particular school, whether for in-person or virtual learning, that student is eligible for sports at that school, Tackett said.

But if parents choose distance learning for their children when schools are open for in-person attendance, districts still can declare those students ineligible to participate in athletics, Tackett said. Sports participation is a privilege, not a right, he noted, and local districts can impose stricter standards than the state requires.

School districts are asking lots of questions about rules for mask use in sports, Tackett said.

“We’ve been told that a statewide answer is not the best idea,” he said. Districts should check with their local health departments in making their individual decisions.

An emerging standard rule is that masks should be required for everyone except those actually in play at the time, Tackett said, though masks are allowable for athletes on the playing field.

Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) said that whenever possible athletes, coaches and fans should stick with the basic public health principles of mask use, social distancing and hand hygiene.

If a student athlete is sent home with a temperature (above 100.4 degrees), they have to be without a fever or other possible COVID-19 symptoms for 72 hours before returning to any type of school activity, including sports, White said.

If a student is in quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 test, any siblings living with them likewise would be quarantined and hence barred from school attendance or athletic practice for the quarantine period, she said.

When it comes to holding public sporting events, crowds still are limited to 50 people, Tackett said. The KHSAA is looking at a 50% capacity limit, incorporating 6 feet of social distancing, for such events, he said.

To help compensate for loss of attendance, school districts can each get two free cameras for livestreaming sporting events, Tackett said. Details are coming July 8. The cameras are worth $5,000 and would cost districts about $2,500 to set up, he said.

As for concession stands and ticket sales, KHSAA will issue guidance soon. But concession stands should expect to sell only prepackaged food, with nothing made on-site, Tackett said. Districts also should look at smartphone-based online ticketing instead of handling cash, he said.

Guidance for bands will also go out soon, said Toni Konz Tatman, KDE interim communications director. The Kentucky Music Educators Association’s (KMEA) recommendations have been approved by Gov. Andy Beshear and DPH, and a KMEA representative will be on the July 14 webcast to answer questions, Tatman said.