GOSHEN — An amendment to the IHSAA bylaws is allowing schools to determine whether a student athlete is eligible to play athletics if they choose to go virtual-only with their classwork this year.
At the June 25 Executive Directors meeting, the IHSAA altered the in-class requirements for the upcoming school year. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students can now take all online classes and still be eligible to participate in extra-curricular activities, as long as the classes are administered through the school. The original rule states that no more than 30% of a student’s classes can be online.
Of the 11 schools contacted by The Goshen News for this story, eight of them said it will allow students to be completely online for classes this fall and still compete in athletics: Concord, Elkhart, Fairfield, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, West Noble and Westview. One school, Bethany Christian, hadn’t decided yet what they were going to do.
Fairfield Athletic Director Mark Hofer thinks it’s a smart move given the current conditions of the coronavirus pandemic.
“In sports, you would not have the amount of contact with other students that you would in the hallways,” Hofer said. “We understand parents have their reasons for wanting their kids to not be in the hallways during the school day, and so being these are unique circumstances and the IHSAA did go ahead and allow it, we are as well.”
Fairfield, like the majority of area schools, are offering a modified schedule for students who want to attend classes in-person. Instead of attending all eight classes every day, Fairfield students will take four of their classes on Monday and Wednesday, and the other four Tuesday and Thursday. There will be no classes on Fridays.
Other schools are offering hybrid plans, where part of the week is in-person and the other part is virtual. Goshen, for example, is having students in-person for two days of the week and virtual for three. Which days the students are in-person is based on their last name, splitting the students into two groups to limit the total number of students in the building at one time.
Hofer knows there will be a lot more work to be done by teachers with the various plans in place. He gave credit to the ones at Fairfield for the work they’ve done so far.
“They were phenomenal throughout the spring, quite honestly,” Hofer said. “I know it wasn’t what you want as far as your typical classroom, but they were phenomenal. … They’re going to take it to another level this fall as far as accountability.”
The one school The Goshen News talked to that is requiring athletes to take in-person classes is Wawasee. Superintendent Tom Edington explained why the school ultimately made this decision.
“If people are worried about their children being around the virus in a school environment, that situation would be heightened in those activities,” said Edington, citing not just athletics, but extracurriculars such as band and choir as well. “We certainly wouldn’t want those parents who aren’t having their students here at school due to the virus and are part of the virtual school to have their children in a situation where something could be transmitted.”
Every school is following health and safety protocols as they try to start in-person schooling for the 2020-21 academic year. Edington is hoping the plans in place at Wawasee will allow student athletes to be comfortable when they’re at school.
“I do know we have some coaches who have talked to the families of athletes who are thinking about virtual learning and helping them understand that, if their child would be back in school for even part of the day, that we’re going to keep them as safe as possible,” Edington said. “We are working to build that confidence so that there’s a level of surety that people can rest at home knowing we’re doing our best with the kids.”
Lakeland is allowing students to take virtual classes and be eligible for athletics, but with one condition: the student must have 1-on-1, in-person contact with their teachers at some point in the semester.
“They would have contact with the teacher as necessary,” Lakeland Athletic Director Kyle Grossman said. “It’s just a different level of support where the teacher can request for them to come in to make sure they’re getting the teaching that they need.”
The school is offering a virtual-only plan that doesn’t involve the teacher contact. If a student chooses that plan, they are ineligible to participate in any extra-curricular activities.
“For a school our size, it just seems that if you don’t want to have any (in-person) contact with us and don’t want to send your kids to school, then you won’t be eligible for athletics,” Grossman said.
Most schools go back to classes in the second week of August, but all fall sports teams will be holding organized sporting events by Monday. While every school’s plan differs, Grossman knows safety has to come first if a fall sports season is going to be completed.
“If we want athletics, we have to be committed to doing our part in making sure we’re being as safe as possible,” Grossman said.