Trying to please everyone while upholding COVID-19 restrictions continues to be a difficult task for Grove City Area School District leaders.
“There’s a lot of work going on in a very confusing time,” Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Finch said at Monday night’s school board meeting.
He was referring to the district’s athletics health and safety plan, which board members unanimously approved on Monday night. Dr. Armando Sciullo was absent.
The plan addresses guidelines for sports, which follow protocols set by the state, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
The plan can be viewed online at www.grovecity.k12.pa.us
And while a federal judge ruled on Monday that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s restrictions are unconstitutional, Finch said the district is still working with current regulations that limit the number of spectators allowed at a sporting event.
Up to 25 people can be in attendance at indoor events, and up to 250 people can be present at outdoor games.
At the Sept. 9 work session, Finch gave an example that shows what the district is dealing with – if everyone who needs to be at a varsity football game is counted, including marching band and coaches, the number comes out to 249.
Between the Sept. 9 work session and Monday’s meeting, the board heard from a half dozen parents with concerns and questions about spectators at fall sporting events.
Josh Brown and Meghann Rigney spoke during public comment on Monday night. Brown’s daughter plays middle school basketball, and her first game is this week.
He hopes the district comes to an agreement that will allow him to see her play, and he vows to abide by social distancing protocols.
Rigney coaches middle school girls’ soccer, which she says has fewer spectators than football games.
Perhaps the board shouldn’t make a decision about spectators that is the same for all sports, she said.
At the work session, parents Carrie Martin, Allysen Byers, Shannon Frost and Laurie Lewis spoke during public comment, explaining the importance of being able to support their children in person.
High school football is an institution in Grove City, and this year has seen “disappointment and heartbreak,” said Martin, whose son plays football.
She said it’s hard to think of parents not being able to see their kids play, especially parents of seniors. She suggested the board consider adding temporary fencing at Forker Field to create three separate areas, possibly allowing more spectators.
Martin asked what would happen if a student-athlete is injured, and their parent can’t be there. She added that many parents are willing to sign waivers relieving the district of all responsibility in relation to spectator restrictions.
“You have the ability to make Friday night lights magic,” she said.
The board has the opportunity to make or break senior year for students and parents, Byers said.
Frost said she’d like to see the entire marching band perform at games if the number of spectators is under a certain amount.
The approved plan calls for half of the band members to perform at a home game, and the other half at the next home game.
Lewis asked the board to consider the time, effort, love and money that the parents have invested in their children over the years.
It means a lot for students to see their parents in the stands. Lewis said she’s her daughter’s biggest fan.
“The livestream just is not going to cut it,” she said of the difficulty she had viewing her daughter’s volleyball game online.
This whole plan has many layers, and working through it takes time, Finch said on Monday. He continues to receive updated information and noted that the district is “not the same as businesses and restaurants” when it comes to restrictions.
Discussions are ongoing, and the district is working on plans for spectators at games set for this weekend. Once space is secured for all necessary participants, then school officials can coordinate with the head coach on allowing spectators – if spots are open, Finch said.
“We can’t just have a blanket free-for-all,” he said.
Games will be livestreamed, and marching band performances will be aired on Armstrong. Finch wants people to understand that the district wants parents at the games.
“And we’ll do that as soon we can,” he said.
At the work session, board member Ryan Thomas asked what would happen if the district violated the spectator guidelines.
Teams could be eliminated from competition, and funding could be impacted, Finch said.
“What we can control is our readiness,” he said.
Also at Monday’s meeting, parent Shelly Wade spoke during public comment to ask about the district’s face covering policy on school grounds.
Board President Lee McCracken directed her to the website, which says that staff and students must wear face masks if they are not able to maintain at least 6 feet of distance. Those with certain medical conditions are exempt.
Wade said that the policy is not being followed at the high school, and she asked if that is being addressed.
The next board meetings are set for 7 p.m. Oct. 5 and 12. They are virtual for the public, and connection information will be posted on the district’s website.