Lawrence school district outlines some precautions for conducting fall athletics, activities

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Lawrence school board

Lawrence school board president Kelly Jones, right, asks questions about the school district's planned precautions for conducting fall sports during the board's meeting on Monday, Aug. 10.

The Lawrence school district is planning on taking measures to help keep students safe while they participate in athletics and activities amid the coronavirus pandemic this fall.

Some of those measures include limiting use of locker rooms and providing specific guidelines for each athletic team. However, there will be risk involved no matter what they decide to do, said Lawrence High School Athletic Director Nick Wood.

“There’s no perfect answer out there and there’s no perfect solution,” Wood said. “What we’re trying to do is mitigate the risk for our staff and our student athletes.”

The Lawrence school board on Monday received an update from its task force on how to reopen school, which included an update on what measures schools are taking to allow athletics and activities to continue.

Athletic practices for both Lawrence high schools are scheduled to begin Aug. 17, which is following guidance from the Kansas High School Activities Association. That start is three weeks before the school district’s academic calendar begins on Sept. 8.

To mitigate risk of exposure to the virus, Rick Henry, director of secondary schools, said the district will continue the protocols it used during summer workout programs, which included athletes being screened for symptoms before participating.

Furthermore, he said, each activity will have specific guidelines, such as how and when to clean equipment, what personal protective equipment will be required and what is allowed during competitions, according to a document Henry presented during the meeting. Examples of the specific competition guidelines are soccer teams using extended benches, golf using “shotgun starts” with limited participation and football not allowing non-essential people on the sidelines, among others.

The guidelines also call for curtailing the use of locker rooms to help prevent athletes from being exposed to the virus in small spaces. But Henry noted football teams may still have limited access because of the amount of equipment they use.

Both Wood and Amanda Faunce, Free State High School athletic director, said they believed students and coaches did a good job following the school district’s protocols over the summer, but the fall activities that include competition will be a larger task.

“We’ve had great success this summer,” Faunce said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work from our head coaches and assistant coaches to make sure our student-athletes are following the proper protocol.”

More guidance on athletics and activities is expected to come from the local Education Unified Command, including guidelines on whether specific sports can be played. Superintendent Anthony Lewis said the district expects the Education Unified Command to release its protocols for reopening schools, which would include a subsection on athletics and activities, later this week.

Middle schools will follow the same guidelines, except those schools will not begin practices until Sept. 8, when the academic year begins, and will limit competition to games against other Lawrence middle schools only.

The district’s proposed guidelines were not yet publicly available. Henry said the district would “soon” publish them on the district’s website,

In other business, the board approved its 2020-2021 school year budget, which includes a 0.497 increase to the mill levy, for a total of 53.481 mills. For a $200,000 home, that’s a little more than an $11 increase in annual property tax.

The board was also scheduled to consider giving the school district administration the authority to furlough classified staff until students return to class in-person, which may not occur until October.

However, the board removed the issue for consideration from its agenda at the beginning of the regular meeting. Julie Boyle, a spokesperson for the school district, did not immediately respond to the Journal-World’s request for information on why it was removed.

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