State school superintendents reacted coolly and a leading legislator questioned safety protocols after Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and the state’s superintendent of schools announced on Thursday that fall sports could resume throughout the state.
Hogan made the announcement with Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon outside of a school tour in Frederick.
County school systems will have the option to decide if they would like to reintroduce fall sports starting Oct. 7, Hogan said.
A news release from the governor’s office said the decision was made after each of the state’s 24 school jurisdictions submitted their plans for bringing students back for in-person instruction.
“Getting our kids back on the playing field and allowing youth sports to resume this fall is critical for the social and mental well-being of our students,” Hogan said in a statement. “… Allowing fall sports to begin next month marks another important step on our road to recovery.”
With the announcement, schools could bring back cross-country, field hockey, football, golf, soccer and volleyball.
“High school sports and competition are deeply rooted in the fabric of our schools and communities,” Salmon said. “The steps taken today are directly related to the need of our students to be active and engaged for their physical, social, and emotional well-being.”
But the announcement was met with a tepid reaction from the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland, which noted a previously agreed-upon plan to return to competitive athletics during the second semester of the academic year.
“We understand and appreciate the social and emotional toll on students in this virtual environment, and we are keenly aware of the physical and mental benefits of athletics and other co-curricular activities. Public school systems, like many other businesses, industries, and even government agencies, are wrestling with a ‘return to normal;’ however, the bar must be higher when it comes to our children,” the association wrote. “We have learned so much more about this disease since the initial months of quarantine, and there is certainly more unknown, which makes it even more imperative that we get this right. As we return to classrooms, so too will we return to play, but the timing may not be perfectly aligned.”
The superintendents also said that returning to sports and extra-curricular activities that would be accessible only to students with private transportation would be “exacerbating inequities we are already facing during this pandemic.”
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), chair of the Maryland Senate’s education committee, fired off a letter to Salmon in the moments after the announcement was made, questioning what safety protocols would be in place for a return to athletics, among other issues.
“Just as sports and competition brings a community together, so do funerals, particularly for young people,” Pinsky wrote.
A robust testing operation should be in place before students gather for sporting events, he wrote, noting the protocols that have been put in place at the college and professional sports levels.
The Hogan administration outlined potential dates for the sports season: practices can begin Oct. 7, and the first day of competition can be held Oct. 27, except in the case of golf, which can begin competitive play Oct. 7.
The start dates to winter and spring sports would also be moved back under the guidelines to prevent overlap of sports seasons.
Reporter Zeke Hartner from our news partner WTOP contributed to this report.