North Texas school districts struggle to limit COVID-19 in athletic programs

UIL requirements allow one coach for every 25 students beginning June 22. (Katherine Borey/Community Impact Newspaper)
UIL requirements allow one coach for every 25 students beginning June 22. (Katherine Borey/Community Impact Newspaper)

UIL requirements allow one coach for every 25 students beginning June 22. (Katherine Borey/Community Impact Newspaper)

During a time when six feet of social distance has become the norm, government and school officials are grappling with the challenge of safely conducting summer workout programs.

Following the beginning of University Interscholastic League summer strength and conditioning and sport-specific workouts June 8, the UIL is recommending that school districts follow state and local requirements while UIL officials continue to monitor Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health guidelines.

“Schools should take their local context into account when deciding whether to offer summer strength and conditioning on campus by monitoring the situation on the Texas Department of State Health Service dashboard,” the UIL said in a statement. “Schools should follow all local and state requirements when considering strength and conditioning activities.”

According to UIL officials, access to school showers and locker rooms is not allowed, and students should not share food or water. Students and staff should also remain in the same workout group each day in order “to minimize the number of students and staff that must isolate if a case is confirmed,” the UIL said.

After not being in school for the final 12 weeks of the semester, communication with parents and students has shifted to email and social media, which are often unreliable, Keller ISD Athletic Director Eric Persyn said.

“The biggest challenge is not knowing [everything],” he said. “It’s a brand-new game we’re in right now.”

Combined parameters from UIL and district officials have restricted large parts of the normal summer workout process, Persyn said. Social distancing and hygiene are regularly preached to athletes, and field access is restricted to players only. If parents do not leave they must remain in their cars.

“Students and staff must self-screen every day for COVID-19 symptoms for themselves and family members,” the UIL said. “Schools should consider taking the temperature of each student each day at the start of the session, if possible.”

Beginning June 22, UIL requirements dictate schools have at least one staff member per 25 students “to ensure appropriate social distancing, hygiene and safety measures are implemented.”

“We’re certainly operating in ways we never even fathomed,” said Joel Johnson, executive director of athletics for Northwest ISD.

All NISD students must do three things before enter a district facility, Johnson said.

They must have their temperature checked; they must check in on a phone or other device in real time and answer a questionnaire if showing any COVID-19 symptoms; and they must bring their own water bottle or jug, he said.

“If you don’t have your own water or are showing symptoms, then you’re back in your car, and you’re gone,” Johnson said.

Districts are also required to follow various guidelines from the Texas Education Agency, he said, which include not renting district facilities to club and rec sports organizations.

Despite a lot of confusion and a number of challenges, NISD has not confirmed a single positive COVID-19 any of its three high school campuses, Johnson said. NISD athletic officials are also following a stricter mandate than required by the UIL by limiting workout groups to 10 students or less, he said.

“It’s a tough situation right now, and we’re trying to do the best that we can,” Persyn said. “We’re doing everything we can to keep these kids six feet or more away from each other.”

With summer workout programs being held at all four Keller ISD high school campuses, campus coordinators throughout the district are responsible for around 15 additional sports, Persyn said. Along with restricting parental access and touch-free thermometers, the district is requiring face masks for all staff when indoors, and all workouts will be held outside until at least July, he said.

No Keller ISD athletes have tested positive for COVID-19, thus far, he said, and the district is adhering to all Tarrant County Public Health and UIL protocols, including a 14-day quarantine for athletes who may have had even secondary exposure to the virus.

“By fall, we’ll hopefully be back to basics and see what we can do,” Persyn said. “Golf and tennis are two things that can continue on, but even in cross-country, you have a herd of 25 kids in the span of 15 feet.
By Ian Pribanic
Ian Pribanic covers city government, transportation, business and education news for Community Impact Newspaper in the Keller-Roanoke-Northeast Fort Worth areas. A Washington D.C. native and University of North Texas graduate, Ian was previously an editor for papers in Oklahoma, West Texas and for Community Impact in New Braunfels.


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