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Double Standards: State Instruction Allows for High-Risk Sports but Not Performance Groups

By Craig Papajohn-Shaw and Lucy Wu

Volume 1 Issue 5

February 12, 2021

Double Standards: State Instruction Allows for High-Risk Sports but Not Performance Groups

Images provided by Robert Summerlin (top) and the University of Richmond Orchestra (bottom)

On Friday, January 22nd, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) set forth guidance to allow sports that are classified as “high-risk” after much pushback from parents. The Governor advised local officials, who would make the final verdict on the play of high-risk sports, to determine “whether there has been a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 identified in the area; local rates of COVID-19 transmission or rate of positivity; and local ability to monitor and enforce compliance.” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced that high-risk sports will be permitted to begin play, while Nassau’s Executive Laura Curran (D) finalized and approved procedures a few days after.  During County Executive Curran’s press conference, she expressed two policies that were in contrast of Executive Bellone’s policies: athletes playing high-risk sports in Nassau would not be mandated to take part in weekly COVID testing, and two spectators per athlete will be allowed to attend Section VIII sporting events. However, districts can choose to opt-out of partaking in high-risk sports, or add additional safety measures, such as testing, as they see fit.

The Valley Stream Central High School District has indicated mandated tests will be enforced for those athletes participating in high-risk sports. However, the letter released from the District Director of Athletics, Mr. Scott Stueber, on January 25th - which outlined the kick-off to Winter Sports - did not mention safety procedures. Reassuringly, Mr. Michael Frazer, the Valley Stream North Athletic Director, reiterated Curran’s mask and social distancing mandate in a message to students on February 1st. It is worth mentioning students who are “full-remote” may still come after school to participate in after-school sports in person, as per state instruction.  

High-risk Junior-Varsity and Varsity sports include basketball, competitive cheerleading, football, wrestling, volleyball, and lacrosse. The Winter sports of basketball, competitive cheerleading, and wrestling began tryouts around some districts in Section XI and Section VIII as early as Wednesday, February 3rd. The district further announced it would allow Junior-High sports for the modified “Fall” and Spring season. It is worth noting COVID-19 rates in both counties are still high; the 14-day average on January 28th was 6.6% in Nassau County and 7.1% in Suffolk County, but are slowly declining. These rates are still over the 14-day Nassau County average of 1.1% on September 6th when Executives deemed high-risk sports as well as low and moderate risk sports unsafe to go forward with. Many were unsure about student safety, especially in wrestling. Patrick Pizzarelli, the Section VIII Executive Director, which is the governing body of sports in Nassau County, stated he is "concerned about the safety of wrestling.

We are already seeing the implications of allowing high-risk sports. Newsday reported on February 9th that 14 basketball teams and two wrestling programs had to pause their season in Suffolk County for either positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing. While wearing masks is required for sitting on the sideline or spectating in the audience, when playing a sport, no mask is required. However, it is advisable to mandate masks while performing a sport. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) announced the mandate of masks while playing volleyball, a high-risk sport. While it was not a mandate of masks in all high-risk sports, it was a step in the right direction from the Association to keep everyone as safe as possible. In addition, according to NYS, the District will lose over a million dollars or a nearly 4% depreciation in total aid for the 2021-2022 school year. VSCHSD is within the top 10 school districts in Long Island that will suffer from losses to state aid, yet the district is still prioritizing sports programs even with the knowledge of the imminent future. Guide: Link here to Newsday [50 LI school districts would lose state aid under Cuomo's proposal | Newsday]

While high-risk sports will occur no matter the potential risk or cost, performance-based extracurriculars, and other music programs are still not allowed to take place. Currently, at Valley Stream North (VSN), Orchestra is the only music class where students are permitted to play instruments in person which started in September; everyone must be separated by six feet and masked, based on state guidelines. Chorus and Band, on the other hand, are only permitted if 12 feet of distancing between instrumentalists or vocalists is available; however, Mr. Holly and Mr. Morris’s band classes are playing with special masks at 12 feet apart, which just started on Tuesday, February 9th. Furthermore, performance-based extracurriculars are also not allowed to be held in the school district, regardless if proper distancing can be achieved. Music groups at VSN such as Breakfast Club, advised by Ms. Rebecca Hayden, 7:10 Downbeats, advised by Mr. Adam Thorn, Jazz Band, advised by Mr. Todd Holly, and Theatre Productions, directed by Mr. Joseph Moniaci, were all halted due to the pandemic.

However, the commencement of high-risk sports raises the question if it is necessary to prevent these groups from performing. The only planned music performance for the entire school year is the Virtual District Music Festival (VDMF). It will consist of two pieces of music chosen by the respective conductors in the Orchestra, Chorus, and Band. Students involved will record themselves playing each piece individually and will send it to be incorporated in an integrated video. While many are grateful to have even one performance this year, although virtual, the music department will not hold its two regularly scheduled student concerts in the Winter and the Spring. If contact sports such as football and wrestling can occur, why can’t extracurricular performance groups perform in person when social distancing can easily be achieved? Furthermore, Dr. David Brown, President of the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA), has addressed the hypocrisy of choosing to allow sports but not music in an impassioned letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Guide: Link here to letter []. The double standard of prioritizing high-risk sporting events and sports in general, which debatably put students at a greater risk of contracting the virus, displays the misinterpreted message of “safety” that districts are attempting to exemplify.

As we are approaching the one-year mark of the pandemic, many students feel desperate to go back to “normal.” On January 25th, the District sent an email to parents surveying the interest in hybrid students to go into school five days a week. To some capacity, this would combine cohorts A and B leading to larger class sizes. However, proceeding with this plan only contributes to the double-standard, especially when extracurricular performance groups cannot meet even when social distancing can be attained. Once again, this option raises safety concerns for students especially when some students and faculty members have failed to properly wear masks in certain instances. Because this is the case, musical groups objectively pose a smaller risk because they require no person-to-person contact and as in Orchestra groups, will mandate masks. When high-risk contact sports are allowed to practice and play games, and students will soon be ushered back into the building, what is to stop musicians from performing together in-person?

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