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Letter: Update on 'high-risk' athletics

Jan. 26, 2021
Dear Oswego City School District community,
I am writing to share information on "high-risk" athletics in our district. Late last Friday afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo shared with the State that he will allow “high-risk” high school sports to begin play on Monday, Feb. 1 – with the provision that local health departments also give their approval.
It should be noted, this decision was shared without any conversation beforehand with health officials and/or health and safety guidance for school districts to follow. As a result, many health departments across the State were unprepared to respond to this information. To add to this, school districts found themselves awaiting important guidance from local health departments on whether we can begin high-risk winter athletics.
Late yesterday morning, several days after these comments, the Governor did share new state guidance on high-risk sports with school districts and State and local Departments of Health officials. This guidance asserts: “Local health officials should consider the following factors in authorizing or continuing to prohibit higher risk sports and recreational activities… as, in many areas, these factors may weigh against permitting such activities: 
    · whether there has been a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 identified in the area
    · local rates of COVID-19 transmission or rate of positivity; and 
    · local ability to monitor and enforce compliance.”
After receiving this guidance and discussing it with State health officials, our local department of health issued the following comments - response to Oswego County school districts yesterday: 
“On January 25, 2021, there was a regional call with local health departments on how this may look going forward… out of an abundance of caution and due to local rates of COVID-19 transmission and the difficulties in monitoring and enforcing compliance amongst spectators, Department of Health officials are in agreement … that spectators should not be in attendance for indoor high-risk sports… schools who wish to move forward with their planning for resumption of high-risk sports must adhere to the guidelines outlined AND … not allow spectators at their indoor events. Understandably, this may be a controversial decision, but we feel it is in the best interest of public health given our recent spike in cases. Given the risks involved, the Department of Health suggests that all athletes and parents sign an informed consent prior to participation. As more meetings take place and more information is available, if there are any changes, we will update you immediately.”
As you can tell, the information has implications that should be carefully considered. First, the district must consider all of the guidance that was received yesterday from the State, which must be adhered to. Secondly, the district must consider the health and safety factors that the Governor has identified (whether there has been a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 identified in the area, local rates of COVID-19 transmission or rate of positivity and local ability to monitor and enforce compliance). Lastly, the district must consider the legalities that are involved when requiring informed consent prior to participation. 
Given each of these concerns and the information that we have received as of yesterday, please know that the district is now in the process of considering our next steps with respect to “high risk” athletics that will be offered in the near future. This includes exploring alternative athletic opportunities and/or conditioning options for our students which will ensure their health and safety.
While we are doing so, please know that the district has already opened its registration portal for all of our varsity athletic winter offerings which include but are not limited to: wrestling, basketball, cheerleading and hockey. In doing so, our goal is to determine levels of interest while also assisting us with registration efforts so that once we are ready to begin, we will be able to do so without delay.
Please also know, by no later than Feb. 10, 2021, the district will make and publish a final decision on all “high risk” winter athletics. This information will be communicated to our entire community when available.
We ask for your patience as we move forward with this matter. We will be in touch with our community as soon as possible. Thank you for your consideration and efforts in advance.
Yours in Education,
Mathis Calvin III, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
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