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PCPS opposed to Northam executive order

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

 

Sunday a statement was released by Pulaski County Public Schools concerning an amendment made to Governor Ralph Northam’s executive order #72.

 

Pulaski County, after a discussion and much planning with both the Virginia High School League and the New River Health District, announced recently that members of the band and sideline cheer squads would not be counted as spectators, instead being classified as participants at upcoming outdoor sporting events such as football games.

 

The guidance from Richmond, at that time, was to allow up to 250 spectators into outdoor sporting events. This was an increase that was allowed due to the outside environment allowing for more social distancing space, a key part of the COVID-19 mitigation measures.

 

“Pulaski County Public Schools received notice last week that Governor Ralph Northam has amended executive order #72 in a way that reduces the number of potential spectators at football games and prohibits public schools from counting cheerleaders and band members as participants/players,” the release from PCPS stated. “The amended order is forcing schools throughout the state to choose between excluding band and cheer from participation or reducing the number of parents who can attend these events.”

 

The response went on to state, “We are opposed to the restrictions imposed by the amended order for the following reasons:

 

  1. The order is discriminatory in that it diminishes the role of predominantly female groups of student athletes and musicians, who are essential participants in the football game experience, by classifying them as spectators.

 

  1. The order is not grounded in the science that we currently utilize in implementing COVID mitigation strategies. We know from experience that we can safely put 1,000 students a day into our high school with classrooms at 80% capacity by masking and social distancing. Counting band and cheer as participants in addition to 250 spectators would still leave our football stadium, an outdoor venue, at less than 5% capacity.

 

  1. The order is arbitrary and capricious. There is a noticeable lack of consistency in how executive order #72 establishes expectations for outdoor venues. Public beaches and amusement parks are afforded much more leeway and allowed incredibly higher attendance rates than high school stadiums which have been relegated to the category of community rec programs. It’s a designation that is insulting to our extracurricular and co-curricular programs while tying the hands of local governments to meet the needs of their communities.”

 

The response from the school system finishes with, “Pulaski County Public Schools will abide by the guidance set forth in the amended executive order #72 while exploring available options for challenging it such as seeking a legal remedy through the courts or requesting a Title IX investigation regarding the possible gender discrimination aspect. It is our sincerest hope that Governor Northam will reconsider his decision and include band and cheer as participants when new guidance is issued at the end of the month. Our teachers and coaches are doing incredible things to create positive experiences for kids and our students deserve the same effort from their state government.

 

“Pulaski County Public Schools appreciates the overwhelming amount of support that we’ve received from throughout the state over the past week regarding our original plan to classify band and cheer as participants. It is our hope that these individuals and others will exercise their right to reach out to the Governor’s office to advocate for equal consideration for all student athletes and musicians as his administration works to develop new guidance that will go into effect on March 1, 2021.”

 

Dr. Kevin Siers, Superintendent of Pulaski County Public Schools, is a strong supporter of returning PCPS students to a sense of normalcy.

 

“Pulaski County Public Schools has continued to look at available options regarding our belief that the Governor’s executive order devalues the role of our female student athletes and musicians by classifying them as ‘spectators’ at events typically utilized to showcase their talents,” Siers said. “We have been advised that there are likely grounds to pursue a Title IX complaint pertaining to the discrepancy in participant classification between football and cheerleading as they are both Virginia High School League (VHSL) recognized athletic activities.  We’re not as certain that band would be applicable to a Title IX complaint since it is a co-educational activity that isn’t sanctioned by the VHSL. We will need to conduct additional research before making a final decision about how to proceed and much will depend on what is contained in the guidance that will be released this week and go into effect on March 1.”

 

Siers and the school system are justifiably proud of the work PCPS have put in to return students back to in-person learning as quickly as possible.

 

“PCPS would like to acknowledge that we are in full support of the Governor’s push to have all schools return to some type of in-person learning by the middle of March. We are proud of the fact that we’ve been offering it throughout the current school year and that we will be returning to five days per week of in-person instruction beginning March 15, 2021.  It is worth noting that there seems to be a messaging problem coming from our state government when they are saying that it is perfectly safe to return thousands of students per day to the inside of school buildings but much too dangerous to let a few hundred people watch their children perform at an outdoor venue that can accommodate thousands of spectators.”

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