GROVE CITY – If Grove City Area School District confirms a certain number of COVID-19 cases in a short amount of time, that could have an impact on student-athletes.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the virus among staff and students, athletes unable to wear a face mask while competing because of certain medical conditions may be asked to sit on the sidelines, Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Finch said at the school board’s Jan. 11 work session.

School board members unanimously approved an update to the district’s health and safety plan during the Jan. 18 voting meeting. There was no further discussion.

Finch said on Jan. 11 the district remains proactive in working to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which means enforcing the state’s face mask mandate when social distancing is not possible.

Under the current health and safety plan, Grove City students must wear face masks during games and matches. Wrestling is an exception because the masks are considered a choking hazard, he said.

Scott and Laurie Lewis, whose daughter plays on the high school girls’ basketball team, expressed concerns about health risks to students wearing face masks during full cardio activity.

Laurie Lewis said their daughter has asthma and has trouble breathing while wearing a mask during basketball games.

“It’s just not beneficial to her health-wise,” Laurie Lewis said of her daughter having to wear the mask.

During a recent scrimmage, all of the Grove City girls wore face masks while girls on the Mercer team did not, Scott Lewis said.

Later in the meeting, Finch said that if one of the school buildings in the district has four or five cases of the virus, the district will have to shut down that building.

He agreed that it’s been difficult to find consistency among school districts with wearing face masks during physical activity.

Finch said he knows of at least two local districts requiring masks that won’t compete against teams with unmasked participants.

A third district went “fully remote” last week after several student-athletes tested positive on Jan. 11, just two days after a scrimmage against another school, Finch said. They were all wearing masks but will likely have to quarantine, he said.

“That is a quick shut down of a school really fast,” he said.

The district’s job is to prevent close contact between a person without a mask and others, he said, referring to the state’s face mask mandate.

“It’s our responsibility to keep that kid away from other people,” he said.

Andrew Evankovich, the district’s solicitor, said he has heard that some insurance companies won’t issue coverage if a mask mandate in not in place.

Ryan Thomas, the board’s vice president, asked if it even makes sense to attempt athletics because of the restrictions.

Finch said he wouldn’t ask the board to be the first one in the area to say “no” to sports.

The health and safety plan is an effort to demonstrate the critical components that the athletics program provides; it also honors the state’s mask mandate, he said.

Heather Baker, chairwoman of the student affairs and activities committee, reported that wrestling matches and basketball games will be livestreamed.

Each student participant will receive two tickets, and coaches will get a half dozen. There will be 40 spectators allowed on either side of the court.

The district will share information about how to access the videos on its district’s social media accounts.

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