At an emotional meeting Monday, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School school district committee voted to limit fall athletics to on-Island intramural competition, heeding a recommendation from the school health and safety committee and bringing a simmering debate over the future of fall athletics to a close.
The proposal to run an interscholastic fall athletic program was brought to the school’s health and safety committee earlier in the month by high school principal Sara Dingledy in an effort to explore enrichment programs for students as they resume their studies from home, Ms. Dingledy said Monday.
According to joint guidelines released in August by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, schools in the commonwealth may run a modified fall athletic program based on rates of infection within their districts.
Under the guidelines, schools in districts with fewer than eight daily cases per 100,000 people — like the Island districts — have been given the green light to run low-risk sports with increased safety measures, pending approval from their local school committees. According to high school athletic director Mark McCarthy, so far schools in the Cape and Islands League have voted to approve interscholastic athletics for the fall.
Meanwhile, ongoing concerns from parents over the cancellation of a fall sports season gained momentum last week as one parent, Celia Gillis, petitioned the school committee to vote in favor of an interscholastic athletic season. The petition received 524 signatories
But on Monday, the health and safety subcommittee came before the school committee to formally recommend limiting all fall sports activity to what the state defines as risk level two, or intramural competition. According to subcommittee member Catherine Coogan, the recommendation cites the risk of increased exposure associated with traveling off-Island as well as an insufficient testing plan for athletes and faculty as a leading factors in the decision.
The recommendation drew mixed responses from school committee members, many of whom voiced concern over limited extracurricular opportunities for students.
“We’re missing an opportunity to move forward, and give them something they all are craving, and desperately need,” committee member Kathryn Shertzer said. Ms. Shertzer cautioned that without approval from the school committee, some parents would send their students off-Island to compete individually. “Whether they admit it or not I think there are a lot of people out there who are already traveling a lot, and possibly even traveling for sports and I think if we don’t offer this opportunity to our kids, they will continue to travel for off-Island sports privately,” she said.
But others, including committee member Roxanne Ackerman sided with the health and safety recommendation, noting educational sacrifices made across the board this fall. “We’re not even sending our kids back to school. How can we talk about sports,” Ms. Ackerman said.
The recommendation also saw opposition from parents and community members, like Ms. Gillis, who felt limiting the fall athletic season was unfair considering the community sacrifices made to re-open businesses this summer.
“We stood behind our businesses . . . nobody wanted to tell the restaurants and the businesses that we should delay further. We wanted to support our economy,” said Ms. Gillis. “And now we choose to implement the caution that was lacking all summer, and who were the victims? They’re the ones without power or influence or money. We continue to ask our youth to make the sacrifices that we as adults have been unwilling to make, and I think we should be ashamed of that.”
Many community members worried about the impact of the decision on subsequent athletic seasons, requesting that the committee revisit the decision later in the fall. Others, like Ken Romero, wondered how the decision would affect other school extracurriculars such as theatre.
Before taking a vote, the committee heard from members of the high school’s athletic department, including Mr. McCarthy and varsity field hockey coach Becky Nutton, both of whom stressed their commitment to the athletic program, whether intramural or interscholastic.
“We are just as committed to continuing the development of our students and our athletes, and I don’t see this as a huge setback,” Ms. Nutton said. “I know it’s not the same for the players and I know it’s a heartbreak for them and another loss for them, but I will not let this season go to waste.”
In the end the committee voted 8-1 to approve the recommendation of the health and safety committee, with the caveat to reassess before the start of the winter season. Ms. Shertzer cast the lone nay vote.
In other school re-opening business, finance manager Jacob Rosengarten came before the committee to request the school’s entry into a lease for two new copiers at $2,390 per annum. The committee voted unanimously in support of the measure.
Also Monday, the committee voted in favor of a new mask policy requiring face coverings for all students while in the building, except during designated mask breaks and in specific cases of emergency. The new measure will be read twice more at the all-Island school committee meeting on Thursday, pending final approval.