When the Kansas State High School Activities Board of Directors voted two weeks ago to prevent spectators from attending winter sports activities until late January, it caused an uproar across the state.
The loudest cries were from parents, demanding to watch their children compete and perform.
Those voices were heard. And starting Thursday, that’s exactly what can happen.
Two weeks after voting 50-26 to not allow spectators, the Board of Directors reversed its course on the issue at Tuesday’s special BOD meeting. By a 54-24 vote, the board passed an amended proposal sent forward last week from the KSHSAA appeal board that allows up to two parents/guardians per participant(s) family as allowed by local board of education or health department restrictions effective Dec. 10.
Tuesday’s board meeting lasted more than two hours and included a number of amendment proposals as well as plenty of discussion both for and against the motion and its proposed amendments.
When it was all said and done, parents -- for the most part -- got their wish.
"Our schools will be ready for that and I’m confident in that," KSHSAA executive director Bill Faflick said following the board’s reversal. "It’s important that schools always have a voice in what we do. They asked for this foundational policy discerning how far to turn the dial down was very important and that’s what this process allowed us to do, to turn that dial down to a level. Now we’ve turned it up a bit to allow those parents and guardians in there. That local control was still evident and present and now at a greater level. And with the comes a greater accountability and responsibility.
"We have great confidence in our schools. We had great success in the fall, but we weren’t perfect. Certainly as a society we’re not perfect because there’s significant evidence of increased community spread (of COVID-19). Our numbers are worse now than they have been for a long time. ... But our administrators are rule followers and I think they’ll be implement with a higher level of fidelity now that that target has been established."
In sending its proposal forward to the Board of Directors, the Appeal Board recommended the following:
"Because masks are already required for attendance at KSHSAA events, and because the science tells us that proper mask wearing and social-distancing effectively mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19, and because we believe that for several reasons, parents should attend their children’s activities, we propose the KSHSAA Board of Directors be reconvened for the purposes of reconsidering the decisions to prohibit spectators at high school and junior high/middle school events through January 28, 2021 with a recommendation to allow for attendance of one or two parents/guardians per athlete."
The proposal removed the late January return of parents/guardians, moving that date up to Dec. 10.
Early in Tuesday’s BOD meeting, Paola principal Jeff Hines proposed an amendment to change the wording to up to two parents/guardians and from athlete to participant(s) family, which include not only athletes, but also coaches, cheer, dance, pep band and student information (videographers, journalists), as well as adding the condition of following guidelines set by local boards of education and health department. The verbiage change also prevents families with multiple participants from having more than the allotted two parents/guardians.
That amendment passed 51-27 in a roll call vote after much discussion from both sides of the argument.
"There’s a very diverse thought process that goes into this just like every one of our leagues have encountered and that’s why this is such a difficult decision," said Holton principal Rod Wittmer, the Big Seven League representative on the board.
"I’m a proponent of local control, but local control hasn’t necessarily worked well," said Topeka High principal Rebecca Morrisey, one of three Centennial League representatives on the board. "I’ve had multiple letters about the number of positivie cases that are being hidden and not shared, people playing in this environment and that’s something we need to be conscious of. We’re in an environment right now -- I’m an athlete, a coach, I’ve had kids that have played and this breaks my heart on multiple levels. As much as I want to think of each individual athlete, we have to think of the greater good and look at what we’re doing. ... If we are doing anything that contributes to the uncontrolled spread, that’s not good for anybody."
Before the vote on the motion could occur, other amendments were also introduced.
An amendment to change the spectator status from parents/guardians to family members failed 68-10. An amendment to change the return date of spectators from Dec. 10 to Jan. 12 also failed 50-28.
After continued discussion, the proposal was finally put to a roll call vote and passed 54-24 with three of the votes against changing the no spectator policy abstentions -- Kansas City-Atchison League representatives Tammie Romstad and Mary Stewart and Mid-Continent League representative Greg Koelsch. Romstad and Stewart are both from USD 500, which was the only district in the state to cancel all of its fall activities, while Koelsch, principal at Smith Center, said his league was split evenly on the proposal.
All three Centennial League board members -- Morrisey, Washburn Rural athletic director Penny Lane and Emporia athletic director Curtis Simons voted in favor of the proposal.
Board representatives voting against the proposal were from the State Board of Education (one of two), the governor’s at-large appointees (two of four), congressional districts (two of eight), the KASBC, the Kansas Coaches Association, as well as the following leagues: Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail (three of four), Central Plains, Greater Wichita Athletic (three of three), Heart of America, United Kansas Conference (one of two), Wheat State, Northern Plains, Pioneer, North Central Kansas and North Central Activities Association.
Even with the allowance of up to two parents/guardians, Faflick stressed the importance of continuing to follow the guidelines put in place by the KSHSAA to conduct winter activities in the safest manner possible. That includes universal masking at all activities by spectators as well as coaches and those participants not actively competing (though some districts require masks for competitors as well), along with social distancing.
The moratorium from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3 also remains in place.
Faflick also said that the board’s decision to turn control of fan limitations over to the individual school districts doesn’t necessarily guarantee a universal, one-size-fits-all approach will be shared by the member schools.
"This is a foundational policy," he said. "You can be more restrictive. You can wait until January to start with attendance, or until Jan. 15. You can restrict it to fewer than two. You just can’t be more liberal than the policy that’s in place.
"It’s important that we never lose sight of the data. ... Everybody needs to do their part and it will be a challenge."