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PCPS work to include parents, band, cheer

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

 

Two weeks ago, Pulaski County Public Schools announced that a plan had been formulated to allow members of the band and cheer squads to attend outdoor sporting events such as football games as participants instead of spectators. The spectator designation came from guidance set forth by Governor Ralph Northam as a part of Executive Order #72.

 

The plan, which was reviewed and approved by both the Virginia High School League and the New River Health District of the Virginia Department of Health, allowed for those students to attend and participate in the events while still following all COVID-19 mitigation factors.

 

The plan was bold. Pulaski County was the first school system in the Commonwealth to put together such a plan and involve so many agencies in the planning of it.

 

Within days, the office of Governor Northam notified Dr. Kevin Siers, Superintendent of Pulaski County Public Schools, that Executive Order #72 had been amended and prohibited schools from counting cheerleaders and band members as participants/players.

 

PCPS responded with a statement stating, “We are opposed to the restrictions imposed by the amended order … “ and stated their reasoning.

 

The following reasons were given for the opposition.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.”

 

Saturday, Feb. 26, Dr. Siers released the following information concerning a new policy.

 

“Pulaski County Public Schools has consulted with legal counsel, our insurance carrier and the Virginia High School League in order to develop a plan that conforms to Governor Northam’s Executive Order #72 while at the same time doesn’t diminish the role of our band members and cheerleaders by defining them as spectators at events designed to showcase their talents.

 

It has been determined that the best resolution would be to have a simultaneous cheerleading performance, football game and band concert scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, at Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium with a maximum attendance capped at 250 for each event.

 

All player/participants on the cheer squad, football team and marching band will be issued the same number of tickets for family members to attend their respective event. The stadium will be sectioned off using a color-coding system to ensure that the families of player/participants are seated in an area that will give them the best possible view to watch their student perform.

 

All mitigation strategies required in EO72 will be followed to include proper physical distancing and the wearing of masks. Pulaski County Public Schools has taken the additional step of covering the costs for these events by providing tickets free of charge to the families of our player/participants in order to reduce the interaction between spectators and school personnel that would be required to sell tickets.

 

The event will be closed to the general public but still available for livestream viewing. We’ve been advised that this plan is legal under the guidelines of executive order #72, qualifies for insurance coverage and is not in violation of any VHSL rules or guidelines. We are confident that these events can occur safely and simultaneously and look forward to providing this opportunity to our students and their families.”

 

The Southwest Times made contact with the Governor’s office earlier this week to request clarification on several issues. The initial question was to ask if Governor Northam would be changing his stance on categorizing cheerleaders as “spectators” instead of “participants” in that cheer is a VHSL sanctioned event.

 

“The recent amendments to EO72 expand capacity limits at both outdoor professional sports venues and outdoor recreational sports,” the response read. “Attendance at outdoor recreational sports was changed from two spectators per player to 250, and attendance at professional sports venues was expanded from 250 to 1000. The definition of spectator and participant has been consistent throughout the pandemic, and these amendments do not change that.”

 

The reply went on to state, “Professional and collegiate sports venues have the permanent infrastructure and staff necessary to control larger crowd flow at these settings. Physical distancing, mask mandates and other mitigation measures must be enforced to allow for larger crowds and the resources required for professional sporting events allow those venues to have more control over a greater number of people.”

 

The response ended with, “The Governor announced today that he looks forward to continuing to relax restrictions on entertainment venues and recreational sports as key metrics continue to improve.”

 

A follow-up email was sent asking for an explanation on the differences between professional sports and local sports, when taking into consideration the capacity of Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium, what the Governor’s thoughts were on the possibility of not allowing cheer and band being a violation of Title IX rules and discriminatory against female athletes, and the issue of conflicting statements concerning students getting back to school (inside) sooner versus being allowed to gather outside at sporting events. That email remained unanswered through the end of the week.

 

Residents with concerns on the most recent decisions to not consider cheerleaders/band as participants or who think athletic venues should have at least the same number of individuals allowed as concerts and other entertainment venues have several ways to contact the office of Governor Northam.

 

From his webpage you can send a direct email. That page is located at https://www.governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office/.

 

Concerned citizens can also send a letter to:

 

Governor Ralph Northam

P.O. Box 1475

Richmond, VA 23218

 

They may also call his office at (804) 786-2211.

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