Game on: Ann Arbor school officials give the green light to fall sports with strict guidelines, no spectators

The following letter from Ann Arbor School Supt. Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift was sent to parents on Wednesday, Sept. 9:

The Governor’s recent Executive Order allowing high school organized sports practices and competitions to resume in those Michigan regions where they remained restricted, subject to strict protections intended to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, comes at a most challenging time in Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor community is also experiencing additional activity relative to the current start of the academic year, including the recent return of 40,000+ university students to the surrounding community, and most immediately, the Labor Day holiday weekend.

As we have resolved since mid-March and at the onset of the COVID-19 virus in our community, we will continue to hold the health and safety of our students and staff as our top priority, and we take very seriously the additional responsibility that falls to us to coordinate high school sports activities in a healthy, safe and responsible manner during the COVID-19 pandemic that continues this fall.

We share significant concerns, as articulated by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Pioneer High School alum and Michigan Department Health & Human Services, Chief Deputy for Health, regarding the recorded 30 outbreaks involving athletic teams and facilities during August, and Dr. Khaldun’s advisement that “contact sports create a high risk of COVID-19 transmission and MDHHS strongly recommends against participating in them at this time.”

In the Ann Arbor Public Schools, we value and understand the importance of athletics for our students, to support mental health as well as in individual and team development. We understand, also, the opportunity of high school sports to enrich the lives of our students, allow college scholarships and other post-high school opportunities, significant life opportunities that could be lost in the case of a missed Fall 2020 season. The Ann Arbor Public Schools has long been known for strong support of student athletes and continues a long-standing tradition of excellence in athletic endeavors.

As a result, we are balancing many competing, critical factors in weighing this challenging decision, and we recognize that there is no decision that will satisfy all; in fact, there are no easy decisions during COVID-19.

It is of note that our teams have been engaged in athletic practices during several previous weeks, and we are proud of the diligent work of our athletes and coaches to prioritize health and safety by following the prescribed health protocols during athletic practices and events at school. As a result, the AAPS has not experienced a COVID outbreak thus far during these previous weeks of outdoor activity.

After a great deal of consideration by district administration, the Board of Education, athletic directors and coaches, we will not stand in the way of the Executive Order issued last Thursday, September 3, 2020, allowing the resumption of fall athletic seasons, and providing that high school athletic practices and competitions may proceed this fall, yet we will communicate, implement, and closely monitor a set of rigorous AAPS health and safety protocols (forthcoming to student athletes) to be observed during these athletic activities.

If concerns arise with the adherence to health protocols by student athletes, parents or others associated with the activity, those who fail to comply will forfeit the opportunity for participation, and/or a failure to comply may also result in the cancellation of the activity or competition entirely.

Further, we will vigilantly monitor the health condition of our athletes and will strictly practice appropriate quarantine and contact tracing when COVID cases arise; please note that this may involve the temporary suspension of athletic activity until appropriate contact tracing and other health-related processes can be completed, processes that may take 1-3 days to complete.

In the case of the identification of cases and/or if/when the health data in the community should warrant, we will not hesitate to shut down practice or competition activities in the best interest of student health and safety.

We will ask that student athletes and parents evaluate their own individual situations, discuss these prescribed steps, and if in support, indicate their understanding of AAPS strict participation guidelines and agreement with signatures on the parent compact (forthcoming to student athletes); signed agreement to the AAPS expectations is requisite for continuing with athletic participation this fall.

In order to ensure that our athletes are well-prepared for competition, the AAPS will not participate in week 4 of Fall football season; football competition will extend for five weeks, as health conditions allow, beginning the week of Sept. 25.  Soccer and field hockey teams will begin competition on Sept. 14.  It will also be necessary to prepare indoor facilities for participation in indoor sports. As a result, swim/dive and volleyball may begin activity indoors during the week of Sept. 14.

In addition, AAPS home events in the stadiums, gyms and natatoriums will proceed without spectators; Athletic Directors/Coaches may coordinate with parent/booster representative(s) to live stream athletic competitions so that all may view remotely.

We are awaiting an interpretation from the MHSAA on the use of masks by athletes during training/practice sessions and competitions. For the remainder of this week, AAPS will continue to require masks during training/practice sessions when social distancing cannot be maintained. Masks are also required when athletes enter and exit sessions. As soon as we have the interpretation from the MHSAA, we will share it with athletes and parents/guardians through our athletic directors.

In the AAPS, we will continue to closely monitor this fall athletic season, week-by-week, and we reserve the right to adjust the AAPS guidelines at any time during the coming weeks of the fall season as the situation changes or circumstances may warrant.

Thank you for your understanding and support as we strive to balance competing needs, and keep our student athletes healthy and safe during this Fall 2020 athletic season.