A letter addressed to Governor Pritzker was signed and sent on Friday, November 6 regarding winter sports by over two hundred Illinois school districts.
Participating school superintendents from our immediate area included Shannon Cheek, Arthur Lovington Atwood Hammond; Brett Robinson, Cerro Gordo; Ted Walk, Sullivan; and Gary Alexander, Tuscola.
While they all thanked him for the work he continues to do as Governor mitigating the risks of COVID-19 and keeping our communities, families and most importantly our students in a safer environment, they felt compelled to share their experience and perspectives not only as educators but leaders tasked with the safety and wellbeing of their students, staff, families and communities.
“The pandemic has and continues to impact the social interactions of our students among their peers, adults, and various situations that help prepare them for what life will bring. Some of the negative effects that they are seeing as a result of these experiences being limited are depression, anxiety, lack of motivation, and loss of self. Despite the resilience of children, negative consequences are appearing, and we fear this is the tip of the iceberg as these issues continue to rise,” they wrote.
While our educators have worked relentlessly to reinvent how we educate our students and provide social interactions over the past six months, the extracurricular experiences that include high stress situations, teamwork, dedication and focus towards a common goal cannot be replicated unless students are given the opportunity to play and participate.
They urged the governor to consider the three following factors before delaying or canceling any future extra-curricular seasons at the high school or junior high/middle school level:
School districts have shown that when given the opportunity, we rise to the challenge and find the delicate balance between health and safety of our school communities while providing for continuity of learning. Districts this summer created a plan, adhered to State safety measures, implemented cleaning protocols and made decisions in the best interest of our students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
School districts are creative. We continue to find ways to connect with students, teach them, and provide opportunities for participation, and to hold special events. Schools have students learning in remote, blended and in-person environments. We have made special events such as graduations, parking lot proms, drive through celebrations, senior recognitions and much more happen safely. Parents have become our partners in even deeper and more meaningful ways.
In most instances, positive cases found in schools come from outside of the school. We take the safety of our students seriously. When it comes to athletics, schools will provide a safer environment with procedures and accountability with more fidelity than a travel or club program every single time. Without the opportunities in our schools, students will play for unregulated clubs and travel teams while traveling out of state to do so.
As superintendents they simply asked the governor to allow their students to participate in extracurricular activities and interscholastic competition. Pointing out that each scenario is different, schools have clearly shown they are adaptable, vigilant, and accountable while keeping the health, safety, and well-being of our students as the highest priority.
In closing they stated, “It is time to allow superintendents, athletic directors and coaches the opportunity to partner with IDPH to provide interscholastic competition in a safe environment. Our students are our top priority and nobody will take better care of them than our schools and the educators who have dedicated their lives to them. Our students will benefit immensely from the unrepeatable experiences. The physical, mental and academic well-being of our students are depending on us. Our students are depending on you.”