Two weeks after making the decision to hold the first part of the 2020-21 winter sports season without spectators, the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s Board of Directors will get to make that decision all over again.


On Friday, KSHSAA’s Appeal Board voted 7-1 to approve a proposal to allow spectators, namely parents or guardians, to attend high school events this winter. The proposal will be brought before the board of directors in a special 1 p.m. meeting next Tuesday.


"I think they got (Items) 8 and 9 totally wrong, I really do," said Appeal Board member Jeff Koelzer, who is from Onaga and represents Congressional District 1. "I think they will watch this appeals meeting and listen to us and the thousands of emails and letters and come back with local control or just parents. I think that’s just what has to be done with this."


At last week’s KSHSAA Board of Directors meeting, the board went against the recommendations of the KSHSAA staff and executive board to delay competition in winter activities until after Jan. 14, instead allowing the seasons to begin as regularly scheduled.


At the same time, however, the board passed a mandate that those competitions at both the high-school and middle-school levels be held without spectators in attendance.


The decision created an uproar across the state, particularly from parents who would be denied from watching their sons or daughters compete or perform.


At Friday’s appeals meeting, two of the appellants spoke on behalf of parents across the state who deemed that decision unjust.


"We all received almost 1,000 pages of emails and parents sent to KSHSAA of concerned parents, grandparents, health care professionals, school board members, students and even entire school districts regarding the elimination of spectators from all winter sports," said Alyssa Boaz, an Erie resident who appeared along with her husband, Chad (president of the Erie school board), and has two high school and one middle school student-athletes. "The overall consensus came down to a request for parents to be allowed and a return to local control. ... In my first email, I wrote, I would implore you to stop considering ‘One size fits all’ solutions. That should be rule No. 1 when it comes to making any school-related decisions. The sizes and needs of schools and communities in this state are simply not the same.


"And that’s where we are again, asking you to allow local school administrators, school boards and health officials — people with boots on the ground — to determine how to safely get parents in and decide the best course of action for each individual school."


She added, "There is currently no evidence that shows that sitting in a school gymnasium with a mask and separated from others outside your own family group is more dangerous than a hair appointment, eating in a restaurant, shopping for groceries or going to church. It is commonly accepted science nationwide, including the current Kansas governor’s administration that wearing a mask and social distancing greatly reduce the risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19. Unless KSHSAA has data disputing that social distancing and masks are not effective then it is simply ignoring commonly accepted science and punishing the participants and families of Kansas students. ...


"We feel it is the job of KSHSAA to offer guidance and recommendation, not a blanket restriction. The ruling should be left to local officials."


Boaz was followed by Macksville resident Kayla Burr, who shared her disdain for the "one size fits all" approach to spectator allowance and agreed on local control for such determinations.


Burr called for the admittance of at least one parent, preferably two, to competitions with risk mitigation strategies being followed strictly.


"I was disappointed to see members voting to pass the buck that it’s a KSHSAA ruling so they don’t have to do their job in enforcing the rules," Burr said. "It’s simply easier with a statewide ban. I felt some members of the board lost their objectivity to KSHSAA as a board member and got too personal in the way they voted. I know it’s not a fun job. I know it’s a difficult conversation to have with a parent who won’t follow the rules. But everyone has something about their job that isn’t fun and it’s simply easier to just eliminate it. We’ve got to be willing to have those difficult conversations and lead our kids by example."


Burr also talked about a liability aspect coaches and administrators now find themselves dealing with as the lone adults at competitions.


"You’ve just dumped the entire responsibility of a team on a coach," Burr said. "These kids need their parents."


In closing, Burr said, "If we are masking and masking works, why is this even an issue? ... This isn’t a student issue, it’s an adult issue. Let the adults make their own choices since they are adults. We know the rules. We know the risks."


Ulysses Superintendent Dave Younger completed the appellant presentations and expressed his desire to be a voice for "kids, parents and school administrators and staff." He said his league, the Great West Activities Conference, was united in its belief that schools should be the ones making the decisions. (The league was one of the 26 ‘No’ votes at last week’s board meeting.


"March 2020 brought a new change in education for us — something we’ve never experienced," Younger said. "We followed the guidance from the ‘Navigating Change’ document and something my father would say was common sense. We were told to work with county health departments and have done that every step of the way. We’ve pivoted when we needed to. ... And we’re prepared to change when we need to.


"We’ve already prepared to limit access to winter activities, but it was a local decision. ... We did it in football, volleyball and cross country and we can do it this winter."


After the appellants made their presentations, KSHSAA executive director Bill Faflick was given the opportunity to present the views from his staff that led to the original proposal to not only not allow spectators at winter events until Jan. 28, but also to delay the start of the competition season until Jan. 15.


Faflick cited the numerous meetings with the KSHSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and also presented data on the increased numbers of COVID-19 cases in Kansas. He held firm in the staff’s belief that reducing the number of opportunities for gatherings of large numbers of people was vital to slow the spread of COVID-19.


"Our board looked at turning down the dial or turning off the dial, which would mean we would have no activities," Faflick said. "No one had the appetite for that. The desire to have kids in activities, benefiting and growing, turning it down significantly was an important step they made.


"It’s not popular and we understand that. But we don’t make popular decisions, we make decisions that are rooted in science, rooted in best practice and the advice of experts that we count on."


Following dialogue between the appeal board members, asking questions of both Faflick and the appellants, and giving the appellants a final word, each board member got to voice their opinion on the matter.


Most agreed that they were dealing with "angels on each shoulder," seeing both sides of the argument with the same conviction of those that were making those arguments.


"It’s a balance of thoughts," Riverside Superintendent Travis Githens said. "Everywhere we turn with COVID-19 there are problems and everywhere we turn we make the right answer and the wrong answer. There is no right or wrong answer with all of this, there’s just an answer and it’s painful for everyone involved with this."


Added board member Sonya Martin, of Garnett-Anderson County, "The last thing we want is to impact our kids more than we already have. ... This is a huge decision because of the public health issue that we have in front of us."


After all eight board members had their final say, Lyons Superintendent Bill Day made a motion.


"Because masks are already required for attendance at KSHSAA events and because science tells us that proper mask-wearing and social distancing effectively mitigates the risk of transmitting COVID-19 and because I believe parents need to be at their children’s events, I propose that the KSHSAA board of directors reconvene for the purpose of considering the decision to prohibit spectators at school events through Jan. 28, 2021, with a recommendation of to allow for attendance of one or two parents per athlete."


The motion was seconded by Githens and then put to a roll call vote, passing 7-1 with Blue Valley’s Tom Mitchell the lone dissenter.