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Back on the field?

KC to unveil ‘return to play’ plan for students next week

TIM WEIGHT/EXPRESS FILE PHOTO Central Mountain High School football players run onto the field during a game in 2019. The district will unveil its “return to play” plan at next week’s school board voting session.

MILL HALL — Earlier this week, Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health released preliminary guidance for high school sports teams to begin voluntary workouts, as well as for other sports to resume in-person activities within the state as counties reopen during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

K-12 schools under the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) and the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PISAA) in the yellow and green phase can resume voluntary sports-related workouts, but must first develop an athletic health and safety plan approved by the local school board.

At Thursday night’s Keystone Central school board work session, superintendent Jacquelyn Martin addressed the “return to play” protocol.

“We do have a draft planned that is currently being reviewed by our district solicitor,” Martin said. “I hope to bring that draft plan next week for your review in a presentation, along with our athletic director for Central Mountain High School, our high school principals and also our athletic trainers.”

Martin said that KCSD’s plan is not exclusive to student-athletes.

“Our plan is not specific to athletes. It includes band members who would also be part of summer programming. We plan to begin those face-to-face activities on or before July 1. There’s some confusion about whether schools can start before July 1 if their plans are approved and submitted to PDE. We’re still getting clarification on that,” Martin said.

The expansive set of guidelines is broadly an expansion on an already present emphasis of standards set forth by the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Testing, symptom recognition and continued efforts to avoid shared spaces and equipment are also areas of emphasis within the newly released standards.

“Pennsylvania has some of the best athletes and teams in the country and they can now begin to safely return to organized sports,” Gov. Wolf said earlier this week. “This guidance balances keeping student-athletes safe from COVID-19 while allowing them to participate in an important part of their lives.”

According to Wolf, scholastic sports will return, but it’s going to take some time and will not happen overnight.

“This is another step toward reopening our state and getting things back on track. As students and teammates get ready to train and compete, it’s important that they follow precautions to protect each other and their community from the risk of COVID-19,” Wolf said.

Martin lauded her staff for coming up with a comprehensive “return to play” plan.

“Our athletic director, athletic trainers and secondary principals deserve a lot of credit for creating a process that I believe will allow our students to become actively involved in a manner that promotes the health and wellness of the students in our district,” Martin said.

She asked that student-athletes, parents and coaches exercise patience in getting back on the field.

“I know everyone is anxious to get back to normal and we’re going to try to do that the best way we can without putting ourselves in a predicament for re-opening schools in the fall for all students,” Martin said.

As of now K-12 sports gatherings are limited to athletes, coaches, officials and staff.

“The addition of visitors and spectators will be contingent upon future health conditions within the state and local communities,” the DOH guidance states.

According to the state’s guidelines, recreational and amateur sports teams in the green phase that are not affiliated with a K-12 school can hold in-person activities, including games and practices. In some areas throughout the state, both recreational and travel teams have begun play.

At the present time, gatherings — including participants and spectators — are limited to 250 people or 50 percent capacity in green phase counties and 25 people in yellow phase counties. However, the release from the governor’s office states: “This guidance is preliminary; as more public health information is available, the administration may work with impacted entities to release further guidance which could impact fall, winter, or spring seasons.”

As far as spectators are concerned, Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health have called for social distancing practices within seating areas, including bleachers for anyone not in the same household.

The release states: “To assist with proper social distancing, areas should be clearly marked. Adults should wear face coverings (masks or face shields) at all times.”

The Keystone Central school board will meet for its voting session on Thursday, June 18. That meeting will be held via Zoom.

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