All student-athletes in the Monadnock Regional School District will be able to compete this year after the school board voted Tuesday night to lift restrictions on games for high-contact sports like football.
The board voted to move to phase 3 of the reopening guidance issued by the N.H. Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA), which oversees high school sports statewide. This final phase of the NHIAA guidance allows for all sports to return to practices, games, and tournaments with other schools, so long as student athletes and coaches follow certain protocols to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. These precautions include maintaining six feet of distance and wearing a face covering whenever possible.
The Monadnock board voted last month to allow fall sports and other extracurriculars to move forward. But at its Sept. 1 meeting, the group voted against moving to phase 3 of the NHIAA guidance, instead choosing to remain in phase 2, according to the minutes of that meeting. Under phase 2 of the NHIAA guidance, only minimal-contact sports like bass fishing and golf were allowed to compete, while higher-contact sports such as soccer, field hockey and football were limited to practices and training sessions.
Board member Eric Stanley of Swanzey, who made the motion to move to phase 3 of the NHIAA guidance, said the majority of school districts in the state are allowing their students to return to athletic competition this fall, and Monadnock should follow suit.
“I think the state, in general, is looking at this, and I think they’re looking at it like we should,” Stanley said during the meeting, which was held via Zoom. “Let the kids play.”
Stanley added that he believes sports are important because they are good for students’ mental health, as well as their physical well-being. But some other board members, including Nicholas Mosher of Roxbury, said allowing students to compete creates a higher risk of spreading COVID-19.
“For me, safety is the most important aspect of this,” Mosher said. “And we know from the other guidelines provided by the state for classrooms that students are not supposed to be sharing objects, passing objects between each other. And all of the other elements that go into safety in the classroom seem to be quite a bit at odds with what’s being proposed for sports.
“... I understand the popularity of sports within our district, and the desire to return to normality, but I think there’s a responsibility on behalf of the board to provide a safe environment first,” Mosher continued.
After about a half hour of discussion, the board approved the move to phase 3, under Monadnock’s weighted vote system, by a vote of 8.712 to 4.288.
Stanley and Chairman Scott Peters of Troy, Vice Chair Lisa Steadman of Troy, Brian Bohannon of Swanzey, Daniel LeClair of Swanzey, Elizabeth Tatro of Swanzey, Kristen Noonan of Fitzwilliam and Winston Wright of Fitzwilliam voted in favor of the measure. Mosher, along with Cheryl McDaniel-Thomas of Swanzey, Colleen Toomey of Swanzey, Michelle Connor of Richmond and Karen Wheeler of Gilsum, voted against it.
During the meeting Tuesday night, the board also approved a plan for the district to launch a pilot program for up to 10 teachers to live-stream their in-class lessons for students who are learning remotely.
Students in the Monadnock district returned to classes Monday under a hybrid reopening model, in which about half of them attend in-person classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other half are in school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Families who are uncomfortable with their children returning to any in-person classes could also opt for fully remote learning.
Mosher initially introduced a motion for all teachers in the district to begin live-streaming classes, but Superintendent Lisa Witte said the district would need to spend about $59,000 on the technology and Internet infrastructure to make that work. She also said live-streaming classes creates some legal concerns, since students’ private information could be broadcast online during a live-streamed class.
“Does live-streaming of classes have potential? Absolutely,” Witte said. “And it is legal, with some caveats. … Protecting student privacy is paramount, and there are many, many areas where that could be a pitfall with live-streaming, and that is a major concern that we have.”
So, Steadman offered an amendment to Mosher’s motion, limiting live-streaming to a maximum of 10 teachers who are willing to try the technology.
“I think that, as a pilot, it’s a great idea,” said Noonan, who seconded Steadman’s amendment. “It’s too much to throw at every teacher, to tell them they have to now start streaming their classroom, and think about all these legalities that Lisa [Witte] has mentioned.”