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Community sports supporters speak

Despite pushback, school board firm on limiting sports

By Susan Mustapich | Sep 03, 2020
Five Town CSD board members heard community support Sept. 2 for delaying a decision on sports team competition, until state agencies and the Maine Principal Association work things out.

CAMDEN — School Board and district officials held firm at a Sept. 2 meeting on their decision to limit sports teams at Camden Hills Regional High School to inter-team competition.

At the meeting, board members heard from parents leading the effort to regain county, regional and statewide team competitions for Camden Hills. Afterwards, board members unanimously expressed support for the decision they had previously made.

There was no animosity between community and board members, though the two groups disagree on what should be done.

Camden Hills Regional High School was the first in the state to announce on Aug. 21 that it would allow only inter-team sports competition. The Maine Principal Association's plan, Return to Competition for Competitive Athletics and Activities in Maine, was released Aug. 27.

The MPA plan is now under review by the Maine Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services.

At the meeting, speakers in favor of holding sports competition talked about the importance of sports to students and the confusion the district's early decision has caused for them. They faulted district officials for lack of communication around the early decision to cancel county, regional and statewide competitions and the across-the-board decision, regardless of the sport.

Camden Hills Principal Shawn Carlson explained to community members that he was on the Maine Principal's Association Executive Committee and knew what they were going to suggest. He said he resigned because he knew that they were not meeting the states guidelines, "which I have to meet legally."

"I was frustrated that they refused to step up, make the right decisions about what the state was asking us to do, and what we thought we could pull off for kids." He said he did not have the option of running with MPA's plans.

He shared this information with Five Town CSD Superintendent Maria Libby and Athletic Director Jeff Hart. Carlson backs their decision. "When the MPA came out with their plan, "they got their hands slapped. and they're back to where they were." he said.

Libby said since mid-July schools have had the state's COVID-19 guidelines for community sports. The guidelines were just updated, she said. She believes the state will come to same conclusion the Five Town district announced  — "and that people have known that for months."

She said the district was tired of waiting for MPA to come out with something. Camden Hills is one of the schools that had the courage to make a decision other schools will be making "instead of kicking the can down the road," Libby said.

"We knew we would get flak for this decision because people are more passionate about sports than any other aspect of school," Libby said.

Five Town CSD Chairwoman Becky Flanagan stated there was misinformation being shared about what the district was doing.

The decision was not made in haste, but was made after months of consultation, she said. It is not true that sports competitions are the only extracurricular area affected. There will be no band or chorus concerts and no plays this fall, she explained.

She said the Maine Principals Association's plan was not endorsed by the Maine Center for Disease Control and that its sports medicine guidance was provided by orthopedic physicians, not by infectious disease specialists.

In response to community member comments and questions, Carlson agreed that the district was now taking heat because it did not communicate well.

He also emphasized that planning for sports is ongoing.

"We're waiting to see what the state and MPA will agree to," he said. "What we're hoping to hear is what can be done at least at the school level. This is not finished and we're going to have to ride the process out, even though we've decided not to play scholastically."

The Board rules for community comments were that speakers had to be from the towns sending students to the three schools.

Jen Roper asked for an explanation of the early decision made by officials.

James Cook said said he is a parent of a high school athlete, loves to watch his kid play basketball and volunteers and puts a lot of time into sports. He said he supports the school districts decision.

"I want to see my kid play basketball, and I do not support my kid playing basket ball, and that's really hard for me," he said.

Carl Chadwick said, "We're not here to question the decision, the decision's going to be the decision, it sounds like to me. But we had a lot of concerns about the process."

He said Libby had now explained the process more openly than what had been explained before."

The early decision, and getting out in front of it, is what led to a lot of confusion, Chadwick said. "That wasn't as easy to receive as maybe you anticipated,” he said. "It's very confusing for high school students and their parents who love to see them play, to understand why there's other schools that are riding the process. That they're going through the process to see that there might be a way to get this done."

He said he doesn't have to agree with the decision. But "at the end of the day there needs to be not just a gavel hitting the table, this is what were' going to do. There needs a little bit more explanation and transparency and more communication with the community at large."

David Tassoni expressed appreciation for responses from district officials and understands how hard it was to make the decision.

“Many of us disagree with the decision," he said. "We disagree with the main point that you made a decision prior to all of the facts being known on what the state will allow these children to play under."

While he said the school making a decision to lead is noble, it "caused undue stress on your students and community because we weren't brought into the decision. It would have been much more effective if you had included us."

"This is a very important thing to a good group of people that find this to be a very important part of the normalcy of their lives, which none of us have had. What we're asking for is to simply wait."

Tassoni said there is no harm in waiting, and if it is found that the competition level can be more than intramural, he believes the children can do that safely.

Jon Duke said as somebody who spends a lot of time with youth sports, working with his sons, their teams and the youth programs, sports means a lot to him and his family and to the community.”

The group, including students, who came out to the Village Green Sept. 1 spoke about the core values of helping kids to grow and using sports to do that, he said.

He said surveys the schools sent out to parents about reopening the schools would have been a good time to get information from the community on any decisions on athletics.

Duke had the experience this summer as a coach following the community-approved state guidelines. "And it worked," he said. "We were in Duck Trap. We cleaned the ball at half time, sprayed the benches down. Masks. This was done successfully, and safely it's proven that the state can do this. We can do this as communities if we band together."

Duke asked school board officials to put a pause on their decision, and give the MPA and state agencies time to work things out. "I think it can benefit our district and our kids," he said.

Flanagan closed the comment period, when no additional community members asked to comment, and asked for board members comments.

Peter Orne had harsh criticism for the MPA. When the MPA came out with its guidance the other day, he was disgusted. "It was such a cop out. It didn't give guidance to all of us." It just posed a question to the state for their comments, he said.

Marcia Dietrich called the reopening of Camden Hills to provide education in school for as long as possible the hallmark of the plan and expressed "total respect for the leaders in this district."

Brieanna Gutierrez expressed appreciation for the community feedback that it would have been helped to be more inclusive and to use the surveys sent out as part of that. She mentioned the board is also receiving letters and emails from people who do not want sports to go forward.

Patrick McCafferty strongly backed Libby's decision-making. He said when faced with making one tough decision after another, it's not always possible to poll the community and decisions have to be made with the information in front of you.

Deb Harbough encouraged community members to continue to attend board meetings, as another venue for getting information.

Sarah Bradley Prindiville said the board values the benefits of sports for students and she believes there will be flexibility. At the same time, opening the schools will place kids, teachers and families into much closer contact than what has been, and the district needs to do "everything we can do to keep our families safer."

Andrea Palise said Libby and the board have done everything they can to keep kids in school. She also cautioned the community against holding young people to tougher standards than the tourism industry that brings people to town and potentially places people in danger. She hopes that the possibly can be explored for sports games with teams within the county and adjacent counties "to get our kids at least able to play a game."

Throughout the meeting, Libby and board members returned to one point: the CSD and Camden-Rockport districts are among the few schools in the state prioritizing in-school instructions for all students and families who choose this option.

Keeping students in the schools, where education works best, is the primary goal of the districts. To support that, the priority is the health and safety of students, families, teachers and staff.

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