By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The Fairhaven School Committee did not decide on whether to allow some form of a school athletics program to commence this fall. During a discussion with Fairhaven High School Athletics Director Chris Carrig on 8/26, Superintendent Dr. Robert Baldwin pointed to how the need to keep students safe in school is seemingly at odds with the potential exposure on the playing field.
As the committee and administration is aware after meeting consecutively for weeks, the state is asking the district to, as Dr. Baldwin put it, “excruciatingly cohort kids in groups of under 25” at six feet apart while offering three different learning models in the midst of a global pandemic.
Now hearing the guidelines and recommendations that “we should cohort our kids and then after school we should have them all meet for soccer, field hockey…. Why are we working this hard to do six feet apart … if the rest of the day ends and it doesn’t matter?” he said.
“That is what a lot of superintendents are saying,” Dr. Baldwin continued, “is that we’ve been guided to be so stringent on safety, and yet this is the case (with sports)…”
Dr. Baldwin said he is certain that most people recognize him as “an athletic superintendent, and he understands that students’ love of sports, drama, and art are often what drives them to attend school every day. But the apparent contradictions are there, especially when one witnesses another area school committee vote to begin the school year fully remote and then subsequently vote ‘yes’ to allowing after school sports.
“We’re not taking it (sports) away, we’re delaying the situation because we don’t even know how things are going to happen on September 19” when school reopens, said Dr. Baldwin. “It just really boggles my mind, the priorities of a community that would be fully remote and vote to do this (sports).”
The committee did not have to take a vote that evening, and likely will not until its 9/9 meeting, but Dr. Baldwin said he was expressing his feelings that night, not because he is not a great advocate for getting kids out playing high school sports, “But I will tell you that we really, as an institution from the Department of Education down, look really duplicitous at this thing.
“Athletes need to have this. We want to bring back what’s normal,” said Dr. Baldwin. “I am an advocate for this, I just want you to know what else is out there in the commonwealth….”
Dr. Baldwin also pointed out that Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical High School was the only school in the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA) that voted to participate in the early fall “Fall 1” athletics schedule and allow sports to begin.
“I totally see the rock and the hard place that [Superintendent-Director James O’Brien] is in,” said Dr. Baldwin, believing that many Voc-Tech students would leave the school and attend schools that will offer sports when school begins. “[Voc-Tech] can’t go along with them. If [Mr. O’Brien] follows their lead, children may leave his school for that purpose.”
Mr. Carrig had opened the discussion by presenting the progress made during meetings between various schools in the region and within the league after the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on 8/19 provided a pathway for districts to make their own decisions based on recommendations from their leagues and member schools of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association (MIAA). He said the fall 9/18-11/20 sports schedule could be adjusted so that any sport that could not be safely run during that time could be moved to a “Fall 2 wedge season” between the end of the semi-traditional winter season in January and the semi-traditional spring season in late April, providing an eight to nine-week window.
Only football has been mandated to that Fall 2 schedule, he said, since it is considered a high-risk sport.
Other sports have been deemed low or moderate risk and, with appropriate accommodations, “We do feel confident as a school and as a league that we have an interesting and a safe plan … to provide an opportunity for our athletes to be back on the fields,” said Mr. Carrig.
There are obstacles, he said, and questions, but the league schools are working daily to be airtight on safety first.
Regardless of whether there was a Fall 1 season, Mr. Carrig said he would support the idea of holding off-season practices and workouts so coaches can coach athletes and keep those important relationships in tact. He also suggested allowing the Unified Basketball to proceed, which would likely not work under a Fall 2 schedule.
Dr. Baldwin asked, with a Fall 2 schedule, if the Fairhaven School District does not deem itself ready for Fall 1, would that mean sports could still run, albeit delayed within that wedge season? Yes, said Mr. Carrig, as a Plan B of sorts.
Mr. Carrig encouraged the committee to allow registration to proceed even before it takes a final ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ vote on sports later in September. A student council representative present that night offered a suggestion of keeping an open mind about drama and perhaps allowing performances to remote audiences if the times still called for social distancing in the spring.
Dr. Baldwin said he would be fighting to get athletics and clubs going again, but was concerned right now only because the focus has been on “safety, safety, safety.”
“And then take the kids out of their pods … their groups…. If safety has been the mantra, when did it all of a sudden change?” said Dr. Baldwin.
Assistant Superintendent Tara Kohler said high school will undoubtedly feel different this year, but the more they limit student exposure now, “the more other exposures you can have.”
Also during the meeting, Fairhaven High School Assistant Principal and Hastings Middle School Principal Dr. Nicholas Bettencourt gave a presentation on the hybrid learning model for the committee, including the various online learning platforms such as the Florida Virtual School that Fairhaven teachers will be using to supplement the more robust virtual learning component of the hybrid model.
During the presentation, they announced the start and dismissal times for the schools: Wood and East Fairhaven Schools will start at 8:40 a.m. and dismiss students at 1:54 p.m. Middle School will start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 1:24 p.m., and the high school will start at 7:35 a.m., with some students being dismissed at 1:03 p.m. and others at 2:07 p.m.
Although all information is still not coming out as fast as many would like it to, said Dr. Baldwin, he expressed optimism about the upcoming school year.
“We are building a thousand piece puzzle and I can see the final picture,” said Dr. Baldwin. “It’s gonna work, it’s gonna be great, but people just have to be patient that [the information] is coming when it’s here, and I don’t know what back-to-school supplies will look like, but I don’t think that they will look like they did in the past.”
“I’m sure this is stressful, I know it is,” said chairperson Mr. Monroe, “but we’ll get through this … and it’s all going to work out great.”
Before adjourning, Dr. Baldwin stated that the district would be especially vigilant this year in verifying the residency requirements for Fairhaven school attendance.
In other matters, the committee approved the Request for Proposal to contract with Champions for before/ after care for elementary school-level students. Champions is a part of Kindercare, a national childcare corporation that has been the largest child care provider throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee will subsequently receive a contract to approve and then schools will disseminate further information on programming and costs. The program would be eligible for early education and child care subsidies for families that currently receive this funding.
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