Official statement: Fall sports delayed

September 16, 2020

On August 24th, Governor Cuomo announced in a press conference that lower-risk, school sponsored sports in New York could begin practicing and playing events beginning September 21st, with the qualification that higher risk sports, though they could begin practicing, would not play events until after December 31st. Since that time, school districts all over New York have been struggling to understand, not only the rules and circumstances under which it would be safe to resume in-person instruction, but also when and how all extracurricular activities including interscholastic athletic events and competitions could and should resume. It is, of course, our responsibility to consider not only the benefits, but the potential dangers and potential hardships of resuming all such activities and events.

Since the beginning of the current COVID pandemic and the closure of schools in New York on March 18th, every school district in the state has focused efforts on a singular guiding principle to inform all reopening decisions and plans. This guiding principle, which has been and continues to be the same for our support staff, teachers, administrators, superintendent, Board of Education, and every other stakeholder group, is what is best and likely safest for our students and the communities we serve. As Superintendents of Schools, we are ultimately assigned the responsibility to make the last and final decision on matters that can have far reaching impacts and consequences for our students. We are required to make these difficult, agonizing and often unpopular decisions, considering all local, regional and state regulatory information available, keeping in mind that we are attempting to make decisions that are in the best interests of all of our students, our staff, and our communities. As public servants, Superintendents do not take these responsibilities lightly, which includes, among them a duty and an oath to protect our students and our communities.

At this time, we as Superintendents of Schools for our respective Districts have reviewed the State of New York’s reopening guidelines and COVID19 requirements, both from the Department of Health and from the State Education Department. Our Districts have met with officials from our respective high school athletic associations, including Section III and the Frontier League. We have also consulted with our local medical professionals, including our respective Departments of Health. In addition, school physicians have expressed significant concerns with resuming contact sports during the fall season. We have heard the feedback from students, parents, our Boards of Education, and our communities at large. With all this taken into consideration, as the Superintendents of Schools for the undersigned school districts, we have made the decision collectively that our Districts will be postponing our participation in the fall 2020 interscholastic athletic competitions.

This decision was not made lightly, nor without serious thought as to the impact to our students and our schools. However, as Superintendents of Schools, our first and most important priority must always be to ensure that we are providing a safe, healthy, and secure environment for the education of our students. We recognize, as do all school districts, that interscholastic activities, both athletic and academic, along with inter-school competitions can be important compliments to a school’s academic programming. However, the benefit of such activities is severely diminished in the face of a potential COVID-19 exposure, which would jeopardize a school district’s ability to maintain instruction and in-school attendance. Where a concern arises for a District’s ability to ensure the health, safety, and security of students and staff, including students’ ability to continue in-person instruction and education, we believe that it is incumbent upon schools to err on the side of caution. We also understand that the assessment and judgment on participating in interscholastic fall sports activities is individual and unique to each school district, and different districts can or may certainly arrive at different conclusions on what is an appropriate level of risk and/or an appropriate course of action. In our opinion, those are decisions best left up to individual school districts and our collective decision for our Districts should not cast any reflection on a District that has chosen to move ahead with a fall sports season for their own individual reasons and based on their own individual analysis.

That being said, as Superintendents of the undersigned school districts, we do not believe that, at this time, we can move forward with a fall sports season, including interscholastic athletic competition. We are unable to predict how recent positive cases in neighboring higher education institutions, or the appearance of positive cases in some school districts already for the start of this school year, may negatively impact our communities. Therefore, we cannot guarantee with a reasonable degree of certainty that every student and staff member who would otherwise participate in those activities would be safe from the spread or infection of COVID-19. When all factors are considered, we believe that the benefit of a limited fall sports season is outweighed by the substantial risk to our school districts’ ability to maintain in-person student instruction in the event of a potential COVID exposure or outbreak. Our Districts, like almost every other District in New York, are engaging in unprecedented efforts and actions simply to open schools to in-person student instruction. The herculean efforts of our staff to ensure that our schools could reopen for students this fall has been nothing short of extraordinary and amazing, and those efforts would all be jeopardized in the event of a COVID-9 outbreak or exposure.

Our individual and collective decisions to postpone participation in the fall 2020 interscholastic sports season should not be taken as a decision to withdraw our Districts from all sports for the current 2020-2021 school year. Our decision should not be constructed as a “no” to interscholastic sports, but rather a “not now” approach for the current fall sports season in order to protect the health, safety, and well being of our students, staff, and communities, and to protect the continuity and integrity of our instructional programs. Further, in order to provide additional opportunities for our students this fall, each of us as individual districts will be considering the feasibility of providing supplemental intramural and internal activities and events to keep our students engaged, both academically and athletically.

As Superintendents we understand that our decision to postpone the fall sports season will be, for some of our students, parents, and staff, heartbreaking and devastating. Sadly, we recognize the same is true for our students who enjoy participating in drama productions, chorus and band, and any number of other extracurricular activities. This is unfortunately not a normal year, and it is safe to say that we are all still experiencing the negative impacts and uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 global pandemic. Therefore we cannot, in good conscience, operate under a business as usual model. Please know that we greatly appreciate the support, and understanding shown by our families and communities as we continue to consider all information and strive to make decisions that are best for our students. We look forward to the opportunity of returning our Districts, when it is safe and appropriate to do so, to participating in interscholastic activities and extracurricular events, both athletic and academic, at some point in this school year. We will continue to make thoughtful, informed decisions regarding the evaluation of the circumstances. It remains our privilege to serve you, our students, families and community! Be well and stay safe.

Lyme Central School District
Alexandria Bay Central School District
LaFargeville Central School District
Belleville Henderson Central School District
Thousand Islands Central School Districts
Sackets Harbor Central School District
Sandy Creek Central School District
Watertown City School District
South Jefferson School District
General Brown Central School District
Carthage Central School District
Indian River Central School District