Lawrence school district reconsidering allowing wrestling as pandemic worsens
photo by: Nick Krug
Although the Lawrence school district recently announced plans to continue winter sports amid the coronavirus pandemic, one of those sports might be on the brink of being canceled.
During a special meeting last week, the Lawrence school board decided to continue discussion around whether wrestling should be permitted this school year as the pandemic appears to worsen.
The board had met with Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health officials, who had updated their guidance to schools regarding modes of instruction, allowing for hybrid in-person classes to continue despite increasing cases of COVID-19 in the community. But the health officials expressed concerns about allowing high risk sports, which include close contact among participants, to continue without requiring athletes to wear masks during competition.
“When it comes to athletics, that’s an area we have more concern, especially as we move indoors,” Dr. Tom Marcellino, Douglas County’s health officer, told the board.
“Our message is clear: We don’t recommend wrestling,” he said. “It cannot be done safely with a mask. The mask will be removed and it’s close contact.”
The district has not yet made any decisions on wrestling, district spokeswoman Julie Boyle told the Journal-World this past Monday. But the school board could continue discussions regarding the sport during a special meeting Thursday or during its regular meeting this coming Monday. In the meantime, the wrestling teams are currently participating in conditioning without physical contact while also wearing masks, she said.
During the board’s meeting on Nov. 9, Superintendent Anthony Lewis told the board he recommended winter athletics continue this school year, despite the health department’s guidance — which was in the yellow tier at the time — calling for high risk sports to be prohibited. Lewis’ recommendation followed the path the district had already taken for fall sports, such as allowing football to continue while the health guidance was in the yellow tier for most of the fall semester.
But the question of whether wrestling should be allowed this year came up after the health department on Thursday elevated its COVID-19 guidance to schools into the orange tier.
While the orange tier originally called for moving education methods to remote learning and prohibiting all athletics and activities, the health department revised the recommendations to allow for hybrid in-person learning. Additionally, the health department revised its orders on mass gatherings, dropping the limit from 45 to 15, the Journal-World has reported.
The revised guidance also said some high risk sports, including basketball, could be modified to continue in the orange tier by requiring participants to wear masks at all times to decrease the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
But wrestling was not one of the high risk sports that the health department said could be modified to reduce transmission. Marcellino told the board members that wrestling consists of too much close contact to be considered safe and wearing a mask during competition would be difficult.
While the board members expressed frustration with the health officials regarding their changes to the recommendations on the day the guidance moved into the orange tier for the first time, they seemed to agree about wrestling. Lewis also acknowledged it would be difficult to do because wrestlers wouldn’t be able to effectively wear masks during competition.
“It’s just very risky,” Lewis said. “Obviously we want to adhere to the indoor mask mandate, and if wrestlers can’t keep masks on, they can’t participate.”
But it’s also possible all sports could soon be postponed or canceled. Dan Partridge, director for the health department, told the board members it’s possible the rising cases of COVID-19 in the county could push the health department’s guidance to the red tier this week. If the guidance moves into the red tier, county schools would be recommended to move to remote learning and cancel all athletics and activities, he said.
The guidance is scheduled to be updated Thursday, and the school board is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. that day to take action, if needed.
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