MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - As the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close, students, coaches, and parents are now questioning what the plan is for high school sports and other summer activities moving forward in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association and the Alabama Department of Education are currently working on a plan for this summer and the upcoming school year. In a Thursday press release, AHSSA said they are waiting for “final directives from the ALSDE and Alabama Department of Public Health regarding when schools can return to campuses.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s current state health order expires May 22 and Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said a broad-based health guideline for high school sports and summer activities will be released some time before or on May 22.
Mackey said they are hopeful campuses can reopen June 8 and start the 2020-2021 school year as planned.
“After this school year ends, we anticipate reopening our campuses for some limited activities,” Mackey said. “Now, it’s not going to look like a normal summer, where you might have at times hundreds of students on campus who are all doing different kinds of things, we certainly believe at that time some social distancing rules are still going to be in place.”
The AHSAA Medical Advisory Board, along with the ALSDE, is creating basic health guidelines for the schools to follow once campuses reopen. The minimum guidelines will focus on physical distancing, group activities based on square footage, respiratory coverings (face coverings), sanitizing equipment, hand washing, etc. The guidelines will be recommendations and left up to local schools to implement and regulate.
As summer progresses, Mackey said guidelines could change.
“What [summer] will look like in mid-July will be different from what it will look like in early June,” said Mackey.
He said it’s ultimately up to the ADPH to decide what summer will look like for students. They will change directions based on what the ADPH thinks is best for the community.
“Public health is going to drive this ship and we’ve made that clear from the beginning," said Mackey. “We are, as our governor has said, we are going to be data driven and not date driven.”
Mackey said they hope they can give students as close to normal of a summer as possible after so much social interaction has been limited during the pandemic.
“There is some mental stress and anxiety built up that we are very worried about and we think that possibly this summer some of that can be relieved which will help us get a good start for the fall,” said Mackey.
In the press release, AHSAA said in accordance with its regular bylaws, mandatory summer practices are still prohibited but voluntary workouts will be under the jurisdiction of each local school.
The schools must comply with the ALSDE and ADPH guidelines once they are released, which could include number of students within non-interchangeable groups and the overall number of groups.
AHSSA is also asking students and parent to prepare for alternative plans for conducting physicals.
“Mass physicals on same day at one location appear very unlikely,” AHSSA said in a press release Thursday. “The Medical Advisory Board recommends students get a physical from their primary care provider prior to the first practice date."
The Central Board has also canceled all summer competitions, which include play dates for volleyball, basketball, etc. and things like 7-on-7s and OTAs. Schools must host workouts, conditioning and drills with their players only, according to AHSAA Assistant Director of Communications Ron Ingram.
Mackey said they plan to start the fall school year and the fall 2020 sports season in August, but what that will look like is also still in question. He said on June 19 they will have a set road map for what the fall school year will look like.
Mackey also said that they are on the lookout for a potential spike in cases in the fall, but it’s up to the public health department to determine what steps a particular campus will take if their county sees a spike.