Schools across the nation are beginning to open back up and many parents and students are anxiously awaiting the first day of face-to-face instruction. While districts across the country are creating plans for a safe and successful school year, one Georgia school district has already experienced their first positive COVID-19 case after the first day of school, resulting in the need to quarantine more than 20 individuals for two weeks. How will quarantining students and staff look long-term? How many students will be quarantined at any given time? How many teachers, substitutes, coaches? How will parents manage when they need to work as well, and now have a child who has to be quarantined and complete virtual learning for two weeks, at a moments notice? And, in this instance in Georgia, only 20 students were impacted. What happens when a football player tests positive and has been in school all day, in different classes, different electives, plus practice after school? Think about how many individuals your child sees in a given school day. Will all of those individuals have to be quarantined for two weeks? How will this play out when it comes to sports and other University Interscholastic League (UIL) activities?
These are just some of the many questions the Frisco Independent School District is answering, planning for and creating different resolutions to the many unknowns that may arise. Matt Wixon, Frisco ISD’s communications facilitator for athletics, reflects how COVID-19 affected Frisco ISD sports this past school year: “The UIL suspended face-to-face extracurricular activities in March of 2020 and the activities were later canceled by the UIL. Unfortunately, Frisco ISD’s teams in soccer, track and field, golf, tennis, baseball and softball had competition cancelled in the middle of the season.”
Hopefully, cancelling a season will not happen this school year, as many students are eager to play and parents eager to watch their child participate. Kay Barker, a concerned mother whose son plays three different sports at the high school level, expressed her trepidation that her son might not get a chance to play: “As a parent of a three-sport athlete, I want to see the kids on the field, on the court and on the track. Our kids have been together all summer long, without social distancing, not wearing masks and very few have gotten the virus. The few that did had very little to no symptoms. As parents, we know what our kids need. They need sports, school and socialization.”
Some parents may agree or disagree with the sentiments expressed by Mrs. Barker. Regardless, one thing we can all agree on is that Frisco ISD and all of the local school districts, teachers, staff, and administrators are working tirelessly to accommodate and do what is best for the community as a whole. Mrs. Barker later added that her son “does not need to be in front of screens anymore than he already is. I understand some families are at a higher risk [of severe illness from COVID-19] so they need to take more precautions, but for the kids and families who aren’t, they shouldn’t be held back. We want our kids to play all sports and we want them in school. As a parent, I will wear my school colored mask and sit in the stands just to be there and support my son and other student athletes.”
Numerous parents can relate to the desire of wanting to watch their child(ren) perform. Watching games this year will definitely be different than in the past. Facilities will only be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity and additional precautions are still being developed and formalized at this time. While most activities will continue in Frisco ISD, albeit with a delayed schedule, others have been cancelled completely due to COVID-19. Frisco ISD released a statement on July 29, 2020, that announced adjustments for the fine arts and athletic departments for the 2020-2021 school year, based on new guidelines from UIL. The district stated that competitive marching band events have been suspended for the fall season, as the health and safety of staff, students and parents are of paramount concern. The esteemed Bands of America (BOA) has already cancelled their competition and many other competitive marching events have been cancelled as well. In their statement, the district affirmed, “Frisco ISD remains committed to providing robust marching band experiences for students participating in all 10 high school programs. While competitive marching band is an important motivational force for students, it is not and never will be the driving factor behind the wonderful programming provided to students by district music educators. Marching bands and dance teams are still planning to perform at halftime shows during football games. Each high school will produce a marching show that is shorter in length and will be designed to perform at football games and as opportunities present themselves throughout the fall.”
Frisco ISD is constantly collecting information and evaluating the health situation while taking direction from local, state, and federal agencies, as well as Collin County Health Services, Denton County Public Health, Texas Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control. UIL decided that larger districts, like Frisco ISD, must move back their competitions and start dates to best accommodate and prepare for the upcoming athletic school year. Under normal circumstances, some fall sports, like football, would have already started mandatory practices at the beginning of August. However, because of COVID-19 and the delay of school, official practices will not start until September. Cross country meets and tennis matches will now start on September 7; volleyball matches are set to begin September 14; and regular football games will officially start September 24; with practices starting on September 7.
The UIL’s decision to delay the start of the season was based on local and state statistics: “Given the varying numbers of COVID-19 cases across different areas of the state, and the vast geographic area in the state of Texas, UIL is presenting modifications for the 2020-21 school year that reflect the situation at this time.” In the UIL’s latest “COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Guidelines,” they announced that UIL officials will continue to work with state and federal officials to assess, modify and adjust schedules and plans as needed. They made it clear that districts should be prepared for the possibility of interruptions in contest schedules and should have a plan to adapt for these interruptions. The “COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Guidelines” set forth by UIL also state that schools should consider their local environment and account for local happenings as well as follow state requirements when considering UIL activities.
States like Louisiana and California, as well as many others, have already made the tough decision to move fall sports to spring. With many athletes in Frisco ISD participating in more than one sport, pushing a sport to another semester might limit their options. Another idea that has been tossed around by coaches and athletic directors throughout the state is flipping spring sports with fall sports since some of the fall sports are more full-contact, in-your-face, like football. Currently, Frisco ISD is not considering this as an option as Frisco ISD is taking their queues from UIL, which has decided not to switch seasons at this point in time. However, information is changing almost daily with COVID-19 and Frisco ISD is actively monitoring and releasing information as soon as they can to parents and the community. The district and its teachers are working tirelessly to create new lesson plans for at-home learning and how to best accommodate every learner during this new and interesting school year. And, it is no different when it comes to sports and the UIL. In Frisco ISD’s July 29 announcement, the board reiterated that students in Virtual Academy would still be able to compete for their campus athletic teams and be actively involved. Students will be able to participate in practices on campus as well. “Frisco ISD began school on August 13, with all students learning in a virtual environment until September 3. During that three-week virtual learning span, high school student athletes will continue to participate in skills and strength and conditioning workouts on their campus,” stated Mr. Wixon. Frisco ISD shared that students who choose the Virtual Academy and also participate in Fine Arts will still receive their instruction during the first school day completely in the virtual environment; however, students will continue to have the opportunity to partake in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that occur outside of the school day.
On Wednesday, August 5, 2020, Frisco ISD released their “2020 Fall Athletic Plan for Parents & Community.” In the plan, Frisco ISD publicized more information regarding the athletic calendar, stating that fall high school sports may conduct tryouts, strength and conditioning workouts and skills training from August 3-12, with off-season sports starting their tryouts and conditioning training on August 13. Fall sports may officially start practices on September 7. In regard to middle school sports, all workouts will be conducted virtually from August 17 until September 2. On September 8, on-campus practices may begin for in-season and off-season sports. The “2020 Fall Athletic Plan for Parents & Community” was composed with support from the Frisco ISD Athletic Administration, High School and Middle School Campus Principals, High School Campus Coordinators, Frisco ISD’s Licensed Athletic Trainers and the guidelines provided by TEA and UIL. The district also released the main goals of the athletic department, which are to limit the risk of exposure by maintaining social distancing throughout all athletic activities that will take place on the different campuses, as well as emphasizing proper hygiene, such as using hand sanitizer and washing hands before, during and after activities. Athletes will also be required to wear facemasks when not actively competing. The different athletic departments will also implement enhanced routine cleaning and sanitization of all equipment and facilities, as well as establish health-screening processes for student athletes and staff.
As Frisco ISD has emphasized, the health and safety of all staff, students and the community is at the forefront and of upmost priority for the district. There are many safety protocols in place for strength and conditioning workouts and sport-specific instruction, in addition to the requirements that all coaches, instructors and students are to wear face coverings when checking in, getting ready for an activity and leaving workouts. However, even with all of the safeguards and procedures in place, there is still the real possibility that students and coaches might contract COVID-19. Recently, Frisco ISD made headlines when a student athlete tested positive for COVID-19. On June 15, WFAA news reported that a student who participated in strength and conditioning workouts at Lebanon Trail High School had subsequently tested positive for the virus. The student reportedly had been exposed to the virus by a family member and got tested before showing symptoms. In response, Frisco ISD sent letters to the families that had students who had participated in the workouts with the student who contracted the virus. In accordance to UIL guidelines, all the students who participated in the workout group with the student who tested positive were advised to self-isolate for two weeks and could not attend any additional workouts until completing the 14-day self-isolation. Furthermore, the following days’ strength and conditioning and skills sessions were suspended to allow the staff to clean and disinfect the school’s athletic facilities with hospital-grade disinfectant products.
Two other Frisco ISD students became headline news on August 7 when they both tested positive for COVID-19 while attending a cheer camp at Memorial High School with 40 other attendees. Frisco ISD informed the Dallas Morning News that one of the students started feeling ill on the first day of camp and was tested positive that evening. The second student who also tested positive was at a get-together with the first student before the camp took place. The cheer camp was not required and was only scheduled for two days; however, the second day was cancelled because the coach was in close contact with the first student who contracted the virus. Per UIL and TEA guidelines, Frisco ISD informed the families and students who attended the cheer camp of the confirmed COVID-19 case and asked those who were possibly exposed to the virus to self-quarantine for 14 days. COVID-19 prevention procedures were in place during the cheer camp and attendees had to complete a health questionnaire before attending as well as complete additional health screenings.
Much like the school district in Georgia, this was just a couple of students in a small group with others. With students in class, then going to practices and games, followed by groups at the mall or going to parties, playing select sports, etc., how will this be mitigated when there is so much movement between students? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. Frisco ISD has stated that when an athlete or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, a ‘Close Contact Review’ will be conducted to determine individuals that could have come in close contact with the individual who has a lab-confirmed positive for COVID-19. TEA and UIL further clarifies “close contact” with an individual who is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19 as one who was “directly exposed to infectious secretions or been within six feet for a cumulative duration of 15 minutes.” However, additional factors, like wearing masks, proper ventilation, use of dividers and case symptomology may affect this determination. In the case of asymptomatic individuals who are lab-confirmed with COVID-19, the infectious period is defined as “two days prior to the confirming lab test and continuing for 10 days following the confirming lab test.”
It will definitely be a challenge. Frisco ISD Athletic Director, David Kuykendall, confirmed the same sentiments, “We’re dealing with an unprecedented situation and there will undoubtedly be challenges this fall. But in Frisco ISD, we are all about providing opportunities for our students academically and in extracurricular activities. Our coaches and staff are very-well trained and they’re committed to helping our student athletes make the most of their opportunities during the 2020-2021 school year.” No matter how well-trained the staff and coaches are across the state and country, this school year will definitely be one for the books. Frisco ISD has never been down this path before. “It is like building an airplane while it is in the air,” reported a Frisco ISD employee.
The humorous comparison of building an airplane in the air to constructing a defined protocol and plan is exactly what Frisco ISD is still actively doing; they are working hard to create plans for the “what-ifs” and preparing for the unknown.
How will Frisco ISD manage practices and games if and when coaches and players contract the virus? Mr. Wixon indicated that the district will follow the guidelines set forth by UIL and TEA. According to UIL guidelines, “any individual who themselves either are lab-confirmed to have COVID-19 or experience the symptoms of COVID-19 must stay home throughout the infection period and cannot return to campus until the school system screens the individual to determine if they are eligible for re-entry.” The guidelines state that “the individual may return to school when at least three days have passed since recovery, they have improvement in symptoms and at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.” Those requirements are for individuals who are tested. In the case of an individual who has symptoms but does not get tested, evaluated and assessed by a medical professional, UIL states that the individual is “assumed to have COVID-19 and may not return to school until the individual has completed the same three-step set of criteria [mentioned above].” Furthermore, if a student wants to return to school before completing the three-step criteria, they must have a medical professional’s note clearing the student for return or must receive two separate negative COVID-19 tests taken at least 24 hours apart.
Parents of athletes will play a critical role in the screening process. Frisco ISD announced in their “2020 Fall Athletic Plan for Parents & Community” that parents must screen their children to confirm that their child does not show symptoms of COVID-19 prior to allowing them to attend and participate in activities. If parents determine their child might possibly have COVID-19 and showing some symptoms but not completely sure, to keep them home a day or two and take a test if needed. However, the district is not requiring families to take COVID-19 tests at this time, but if individuals are showing signs at practice, each campus will decide what needs to be implemented at that time. The announcement also stated that athletes will be screened every Monday (or the first day of the week) and on every competition or game day. Students will continue to follow social distancing guidelines and wear face coverings as instructed by government mandates. The staff will be required to do the same as the athletes: self-screening before going to campus, practicing safe social distancing guidelines and wear proper face coverings.
TEA’s “Public Health Planning Guidance,” published on August 4, states that “the virus that causes COVID-19 can infect people of all ages and school system leaders should do everything feasible to keep students, teachers, staff and our communities safe.” That said, research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), among others, has found that while COVID-19 does infect children and some severe outcomes have been reported in children, relatively few children with COVID-19 are hospitalized or have severe symptoms. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that COVID-19 risks must be balanced with the need for children to attend school in person, given that lack of physical access to school leads to a number of negative consequences, placing ‘children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity, and in some case[s], mortality.’” In Attorney General Ken Paxton’s letter to Mayor Doug Svien on July 28, 2020, he listed detailed advice regarding local health authorities and their decision to close (or not close) schools. He writes, “We recognize, of course, that these unprecedented circumstances are difficult times for many Texans and may require difficult decisions from our state and local leaders. But, as the Texas Supreme Court has recognized, the Constitution is not suspended when the government declares a state of disaster. Government action, no matter how urgent or expedient it is believed to be, may not exceed the constitutional limitations that have been placed upon it by the People. We encourage local and school system officials to work together to make the best decision, within their authority under the law, to protect the health and safety of the residents of their jurisdictions.”
There are still so many unknowns and the climate is constantly changing. Frisco ISD is doing their best to accommodate, reassess, plan and plan again, all while focusing on what is best for the students, staff and the community as a whole.
Mrs. Cori Weiler, whose son is one of Lone Star High School’s football defensive ends, shared her sentiments on how Frisco ISD is handling athletics this year: “My son’s coach has been very helpful in relaying information to parents. He sends lengthy, detailed emails every week as information comes in. Given the circumstances, they are really trying and doing the best that they can do, and we need to show grace. They have to rewrite the book and are communicating with us all so well. We know they are not done yet. Thankfully, we have these three extra weeks to allow some more time or the district to finish ironing out all the details and we need to be patient in waiting. As for my son, he honestly doesn’t care! He just wants to play.”
Many parents can relate! So many teenagers are just anxious and ready to play their sport(s) and God-willing, they will get their chance this year. But it will take all of our patience, grace, kindness and unity. Knowing the district is focusing on the health and wellbeing of the city as a whole is extremely reassuring. They are doing their best to do what is right for the safety of their staff, our children and many other individuals who are directly impacted by their decisions. Frisco ISD is piecing together a puzzle from three different guideline boxes: UIL, TEA and government mandates, all while trying to form a beautiful, seamless picture, that unites parents, staff and students. Whatever the outcome, Frisco ISD is committed to making the most of the school year by providing the best education and extracurricular activities for all their students.
If you would like to learn more, Frisco ISD released their “2020 Fall Athletic Plan for Parents & Community” that can be found at www.friscoisd.org.