Pictured above is Mt. Blue’s Ethan McIntosh at a track meet in April. RSU 9 Superintendent Tina Meserve expressed concerns about the district’s ability to maintain its guidelines if competitive sports took place in the fall. Submitted photo

 

FARMINGTON— The Regional School Unit 9 board of directors voted Tuesday to forgo sports programming and instead approved an intramural sports program to be developed by Athletic Director Chad Brackett.

Prior to the vote, Superintendent Tina Meserve expressed concerns surrounding the discrepancies between the sports guidelines issued by the Maine Principal’s Association, or MPA, and the district’s return-to-school protocols.

“Thinking about moving forward with MPA athletics is not something as an administrative team we think is possible,” Meserve said to board members via Zoom.

The MPA guidelines requires districts to strictly adhere to their reopening guidelines which for RSU 9, includes students maintaining a 3-foot distance from one another and a 6-foot distance from adults, wearing face coverings and minimizing bus capacity.

RSU 9 schools are following a hybrid, cohort system which divides students into rotating days of in-person classes. Meserve and several board members voiced concerns about the potential of a competitive sports program mixing contact between students of different cohorts.

Board member Josh Robbins of Vienna feared that banning sports would only cause students to seek out opportunities to continue playing through outlets such as traveling teams that would increase their exposure.

Board member Craig Stickney of Chesterville hoped to see sports programming continue under MPA guidelines which does not require athletes to wear masks if they are able to maintain a 6-foot distance from others.

“COVID’s not going away,” Stickney said. “We have to learn to live with it.”

Board member Kirk Doyle of Farmington, who voted against banning competitive sports programming, questioned why the decision was up to individual districts and if the benefits of sports outweighed the risk of increased exposure.

At the Zoom community forum prior to the board meeting, parents discussed these risks and whether a traditional fall sports program was worth the potentially increased exposure among students and staff.

“I do agree that in the heat of play, it can be difficult at times to follow guidelines, and I do think the risks are greater in some ways than others,” RSU 9 parent Echo McDonough said. “I think apologizing to our students is a lot easier than apologizing to someone on a ventilator.”

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