Athletes return to the fields
At a school board meeting on Oct. 22, VISD Superintendent Slade McSheehy announced that student-athletes had returned to practices and conditioning sessions at Vashon High School, and McMurray Middle School students also have the option of attending a conditioning club.
Such practices are allowed under new guidelines issued on Oct. 6 by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
The WIAA guidelines allow for team practices and/or training to resume for all sports if players are limited to groups of six in separate parts of the field or courts, and separated by a buffer zone.
Brief, close contact (such as three-on-three drills) are permitted as well.
The guidelines also offer rules for additional safety measures and protocols and say that any activities that can be done outdoors should be done outdoors.
However, these guidelines are at variance with those stipulated in the Department of Health’s “Decision Tree” — a document that has guided most if not all of the re-opening decisions made thus far by VISD.
The Decision Tree guidelines strongly recommend, for counties with COVID activity levels above 75 cases per 100,000 people, that most in-person extracurricular activities should be canceled, including sports, performances, clubs, events, etc. — with the option to allow extracurricular activities in small groups of six or fewer students.
King County’s COVID activity level, as of Monday, Oct. 26, stood at 99 cases per 100,000 people.
In an email, McSheehy provided a rationale as to why the district had chosen the more lenient WIAA guidelines over those of the ones in the Decision Tree.
“With WIAA and DOH guidance not always closely aligned, the decisions we have to make are not always easy or straightforward,” McSheehy said. “This is hard work. To that end, we wanted our students to have as many opportunities as possible to participate given the positive impacts on their mental health and well-being.”
McSheehy also noted that stringent safety precautions were in place at the schools and that VISD had experienced zero COVID-19 incidents since allowing its students to participate in athletic programs. He noted that as the programs move forward, the district would continue to review all available guidance to determine the best path forward for students, staff and the community.
According to Andy Sears, athletic director of VHS, a total of 199 VHS students are now taking part in practices for sports including boys basketball, girls basketball, football, tennis, cross country, girls soccer, boys soccer, conditioning club, volleyball, cheer, golf and wrestling.
Sears also further outlined protocols that include temperature checks prior to practice, mandatory mask-wearing prior, during and after workouts taking place in pods of six students with the same students remaining together, and other hygiene and sanitary mandates.
Support personnel get pay raises
In other school district news stemming from the Oct. 22 board meeting, the board approved a bargaining agreement that included a pay raise for support personnel in the district. The raises will spell additional costs to the district of just approximately $100,000 over the course of the next two years.
The agreement pertains to those employed as campus monitors, library assistants, paraeducators, secretaries, registrars, office managers, and other similar positions in the schools.
In an email, McSheehy explained that under the current agreement, the pay scale of every VESP member is at least now currently ranked in the top three of comparable districts (including Tacoma, South Kitsap, Franklin Pierce, Coupeville, San Juan and Granite Falls), while many VESP members have pay scales ranked number one with comparable districts.
“Our VESP members are critical to our mission and year to year, our shared goal is to be able to attract and retain the highest quality staff for our district,” he said.