The Mitchell Board of Education has voted to remain at the current level of summer activity training instead of moving on to a more open format.
The board made the decision by unanimous decision at the July 13, which also included an extended discussion, comments from the public and a vote to require anyone on Mitchell School District property to wear a mask until such a time as the pandemic is deemed over.
The Mitchell School District began implementing suggestions and guidelines from the South Dakota High School Activities Association in May, when it adopted the organization’s phase 1 of summer training due to the outbreak of COVID-19. This was a limited opening of summer activities training. The board decided to advance to phase 2 at the June 22 meeting of the board, opening up training to slightly larger groups.
The district has been operating at that level ever since. Under phase 2, outdoor training and practice groups are limited to 50 people so long as proper social distancing can be maintained, while indoor groups remain at a limit of 10. Restrictions on sharing equipment and balls were lifted, but cleaning and sanitizing of equipment would take place periodically.
The weight room was reopened while still maintaining the 10-person limit on indoor gatherings, and individual students were able to be assigned a single rack in the weight room, with workouts designed so they would not need to leave that particular rack for the duration of that workout.
In phase 3, the maximum size of groups for both indoors and outdoors would expand to 50, full practices would be allowed for low and moderate risk activities and modified drills and non-competitive drills would be allowed for high risk activities. High-risk activities include football, wrestling, competitive cheer and competitive dance.
Low and medium risk activities would practically return to normal, said Cory Aadland, activities director for the district.
“The low and medium risk would essentially be back to business as usual,” Aadland said. “The basketball team could do some level of scrimmages and maybe do more drill work. We would be loosening those restrictions while still maintaining the distancing when we can.”
The board had suggested it would consider moving to phase 3 at the July 13 meeting based upon the trend lines of COVID-19 cases in Davison County. Incidents in the county remained low leading up to the meeting, but board members hoped to get more information and guidance from the SDHSAA and other organizations before committing.
Lacey Musick, a member of the board of education, expressed hesitation on moving to phase 3.
“I don’t know what the expectation is for the fall, but I’d hate to move to phase 3 and have full-on football practice and then learn the state doesn’t think it’s safe,” Musick said.
Aadland said the high-risk activities would still carry restrictions in phase 3.
“(Activities like) football and wrestling would still have restrictions. (Phase 3) allows for non-competitive drills and avoids that face-to-face interaction. There are still restrictions on high-risk sports. It wouldn’t be a six-foot (spacing) thing, but there would be controls in place to minimize some of that immediate exposure,” Aadland said.
Aadland added that individual sports and other low-risk activities would see minimal change moving to phase 3.
“I would say there will be probably very small changes. Those are in the lower-risk group, so there’s no real change between phase 2 and phase 3,” Aadland said.
Board members asked about participating in team camps with other schools, and Aadland said they are still looking into if and how that would happen.
“Everyone around the state is getting into this at the same time, and there are discussions of having team camps and scrimmages, probably in the last couple weeks of July,” Aadland said. “We haven’t committed to anything, of course. Basketball and soccer are the two that have asked about doing some kind of camp outside Mitchell.”
The board noted that the SDHSAA board will meet July 20 and will likely have more clarification for schools on procedures for moving forward toward falls ports. Joe Graves, superintendent for the Mitchell School District, said the Eastern South Dakota Conference is also putting together a committee to provide some guidance to member schools, including on how fans may fit into games if and when they return.
“They are forming a committee to discuss what’s going to happen in the fall, and right now, they don’t know,” Graves said.
Aadland said he was not aware of any other schools that had moved to phase 3 at the time of the July 13 meeting.
More information is expected to be coming from studies for groups like marching band and other activities, as well. Musick said the same level of concern should be shown for fine arts programs as for athletic programs.
“I think we need to make sure that fine arts are following the same guidelines as the activities,” Musick said.
Board members voted 5-0 to remain at phase 2, the current level of summer training, at least until the SDHSAA board meeting next week. With the first fall practice scheduled to begin Aug. 3, they indicated they would convene for a special meeting prior to that if changing the level of openness with the summer activities training program is needed. That would allow training protocols to be adjusted before scheduled practices begin.
The next regular meeting of the board of education is scheduled for Aug. 10.