Stillwater Public Schools is wrestling with how to provide as close to a natural experience for its students it can amid COVID-19 infection rates that have put Stillwater on the national radar. An important part of that experience is athletics and extracurricular activities.
But parents opposed to distance learning for students enrolled in traditional instruction, as has been the case for the past two weeks, have cried foul at what they see as less essential activities continuing when it’s not judged safe for their children to be in class.
“You can understand the confusion that causes in the community,” Board member Camille Deyong said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s tough.”
Deyong and board member Tim Riley spoke with protestors gathered in front of the SPS administration building Tuesday before the board gathered for its virtual meeting.
Superintendent Marc Moore explained that school administrators have viewed athletics and other extracurricular activities as being different than having 5,000 students and 800 staff members in the enclosed environment of school buildings.
But there are concerns about being able to hold athletic events and extracurricular activities safely.
Stillwater is currently at Orange Level 2, the next to highest, based on infections in Payne County.
Board president Mitsi Andrews expressed strong reservations about holding another football game while the district remains at elevated risk.
“I’ve lost a lot of faith in our community to follow what we said would occur if guidelines and restrictions were not followed,” Andrews said.
Andrews said she met with administrators leading up to last Friday’s first home game, urging them to close the concession stand and plead with the spectators to adhere to the restrictions established.
She was disappointed to receive messages that night telling her many spectators were not wearing face coverings or were not wearing them properly.
She urged the district to have people present to ensure spectators are following the rules.
Deyong argued against forcing administrators to police compliance at events, characterizing it as “divisive and volatile.”
Board member Tim Riley said it ultimately comes down to letting people know they have to follow the rules if they want to attend football games.
“Help us help you enjoy Friday night football,” he said, summing it up for the other board members who said they should put the saying on a T-shirt.
District administrators have asked the Board to consider metrics that would govern athletics and extracurricular activities based on the same color-coded system that determines methods of instruction as infection numbers rise in the community.
The metrics will be evaluated in consultation with health professionals and the board will consider them again next week.
Assistant Superintendent Dana Renner presented metrics for athletics, which referenced Oklahoma Secondary Schools Athletics Association policies, and extracurriculars like band and orchestra, choir, debate, academic bowl, FFA and other activities.
Many of the non-athletic activities will have their own governing organizations that have provided guidance. A few fall under OSSAA, which has not taken an active role in guiding districts as they navigate the pandemic.
Renner said SPS is coordinating with other schools and when traveling for events, will abide by the procedures adopted by the school with stricter guidelines.
The metrics district administrators are recommending increased restrictions on travel and spectators as the district moves through the color-coded alert system.
The board ultimately decided to hold off on approving the metrics until next week, allowing Moore and his team to continue handling it administratively, based on the recommended guidelines.