Adequate precautions would be difficult to implement
Among the sad aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak is that it has deprived so many young people of the rituals of school and coming of age.
In-person graduation ceremonies have been canceled, as have proms and other gatherings. The graduates will be congratulated by family, friends and educators, but it won’t be the same.
As they disperse on the varied paths they’ll choose, they’ll miss out on some of the camaraderie at the end of their shared experiences with classmates. And for student-athletes whose seasons or playoffs were wiped out in mid-March, the coronavirus cost them their last hurrah.
Like so much in these unsettled, unsettling times, what happens next in elementary and secondary education in the region is uncertain. That includes whether students will be able to report back to their school buildings at the end of summer break.
Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera told legislators recently that “we fully expect to come back to school in the fall,” but a great many questions must be answered before that can happen. At the Erie School District, as reporter Ed Palattella detailed, officials are making plans to offer both in-person and online instruction, to account for social distancing and other complications.
One open question is expected to be answered before classes resume. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association has targeted July 1 for possible resumption of high school athletic activities. That seems unlikely.
The reasons are evident in guidelines on safely restarting sports issued this week by the National Federation of State High School Associations, of which the PIAA is a member. The NFHS outlines steps for restarting athletics in phases, with different protocols for different sports depending on the level of risk.
Individual events without shared equipment, such as golf and solo running events, might be more easily managed. Basketball, and especially football and wrestling, are another matter.
It remains to be seen what progress will be made against COVID-19 in the weeks and months ahead, and what state and local restrictions will remain in place. But the NFHS guidelines leave us skeptical that many sports can be safely restarted this summer or early in the coming school year.
The guidelines call, for example, for each athlete and coach to be screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms, including a temperature check. The guidelines also call for keeping records of each screening in case someone contracts the virus.
The logistics of such a regimen seem prohibitive. And guidelines for social distancing and such during practices, games and events probably ask for more self-control in groups than many teenagers typically can be counted on to muster.
We’d hate to see more student-athletes miss out. But their safety is paramount, and school officials should err on the side of caution.