Last week the Lincoln County School District (LCSD) announced that school sports would be starting again Feb. 22. However, questions remained regarding the plan for full-contact football.
LCSD Superintendent Karen Gray provided further clarification of how the school district will respond when the county metrics change from ‘High Risk’ to ‘Moderate Risk’ in regards to COVID-19, which is possible Feb. 25 when the county makes its next risk category announcement.
“Our COVID numbers are down, and if this continues, we will bring back full-contact football for those schools wishing to do so,” Gray said this week.
With sports scheduled to start Feb. 22, if Lincoln County is in Moderate Risk next week, LCSD plans to begin football practice with helmets and pads on Feb. 26. LCSD also has to option to participate in flag football starting Feb. 26 if they choose to. If Lincoln County is in moderate risk after Feb. 26, LCSD can move to 8 or 11 man football. Due to health, safety and size, 8 and 11 man football can be interchangeable.
When Lincoln County schools are allowed to begin contact sports, they will be required to complete the protective gear progression and nine days of on-field practice before competition against another school, according to the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA). These two requirements begin on the same date. In short, it would be a minimum of nine days after LCSD begins contact sports before schools could play anyone.
As far as modifying the game to allow teams to use 8 and 11 player structures, OSAA stated they have no issues with that if it allows kids to participate. With that guidance, LCSD will have their first competition on March 12 instead of March 5. They would be able to have a 7 on 7 or flag football contest on March 5.
Gray provided further explanation of why the district does not feel it can “opt-in” when Lincoln County is still in the “High Risk” category.
“Please keep in mind that it is up to each school district to decide whether to opt-in when your Risk category does not meet the Low or Moderate level,” Gray said. “It is a fact that the numbers are still high enough here to have to stay at High Risk, so it is about safety. It is also about district liability and student privacy. A Bend high school (Summit) opened for full-contact football and then got COVID and then closed again. I would not want something like that to happen to us.”
Gray then provided information on both liability for the school district and privacy regarding COVID-19.
Schools should contact their legal counsel, but schools and school personnel are likely to be entitled to immunity for claims of loss resulting from performing COVID-19 testing under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, except for acts of willful misconduct. For additional information about the PREP Act, visit https://sharedsystems.dhsoha.state.or.us/DHSForms/Served/le3529.pdf, and https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/legal/prepact/Pages/default.aspx.
"There is still an unknown risk to students and staff if we do this wrong," Gray said. "The district would like to stay in its lane as an education organization."
Student and staff test results, both positive and negative, shall be kept confidential. Student test results can be shared with the student and their legal guardian only. However, student and staff test results will be reported to public health, as required under ORS 433.004 and ORS 433.008.
As outlined in the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, schools must train staff on confidentiality requirements under FERPA, HIPAA, and local policy regarding student and staff health information, including a COVID-19 diagnosis.
"We don't see how we would be able to keep the results private when a known action follows the results, pointing to the person(s) that took the test," Gray said.
At the end of January, LCSD football coaches met to outline plans for a 7 on 7 season if unable to play contact football this season.
“These plans will continue until we are categorized at a Moderate Risk level-hopefully, soon,” Gray said.