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Mercer Board Of Education Approves Sporting Events

Board Members Conflicted About Mask Requirements

Maddie Nichols, Keegan Bottem and Brinkley Prewitt cheer at last year’s season opener. File photo.

Robert Moore

Herald Staff

Most people try to take off for Labor Day, but the Mercer County Board of Education held a special-called meeting. The board voted 4-1 to approve changes made to the COVID-19 Response Matrix which will allow the district to host sports events.

The board first approved the document in July. Under the original terms, no outside groups—such as sports teams—could be allowed on school grounds. The amendments allow outside groups onto the campus, as long as they are not from a county experiencing a spike in infections.

“If we had a county with an outbreak, that game would be canceled,” Superintendent Dennis Davis said.

He said the home school makes the call in conjunction with the state and local health departments. Davis said the decision to cancel a game would be handled like games canceled due to inclement weather.

“We always try to announce by noon,” Davis said.

Last week, the board failed to approve the Healthy at School update, which would have allowed in-person instruction to resume on Sept. 28, due to the inclusion of state guidance that makes wearing masks indoors mandatory.

Bobby Walden, who represents district 1, said it is important to return students  back in class, but he questioned the necessity of the restrictions.

“Are we hindering them or are we helping them?”  Walden asked.

At that meeting, Esther Hayslett, the director of pupil personnel, reminded the board that there are liability issues if the district failed to approve the guidance. Hayslett said the district already has staff in quarantine.

Board chairman Randy Phillips said there is a mounting frustration among parents and board members with the pandemic and with government actions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We would be smart to follow the lead of the medical professionals who are studying this,” Hayslett said. “I don’t know if we can come back in-person without a plan.”

Davis said the update doesn’t impact students until they return for in-person instruction. He said they could revist the idea at their next regular meeting in September.

On Labor Day, Walden and Phillips again questioned the mask restriction.

Athletic Director Donald Wayne Smith explained football players would have to wear gaiters or masks while on sidelines while cheerleaders would have to wear masks the whole game. Smith said spectators would have to wear masks to enter and while walking around, but could remove the masks when seated with their families.

Walden said the document says masks are mandatory.

“You’re telling us one thing but this is telling us another,” he said. “It’s in an approved document, it can’t be taken back.”

Walden said the public is allowed to take off masks in restaurants, which he called a totally uncontrolled environment. He called the school a controlled environment, and wondered why people would have to wear masks at an outdoor event like a football game.

“We’ve got to get some routine life back going,” he said.

Davis said plans for events must meet standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments. He said the guidelines are what is required for the district to hold an event.

“They have the power to shut us down,” Davis said.

“It’s not right,” Walden said.

“They can shut you down. Period. Whether you like it or you don’t like it,” said board member Billy G. Montgomery. “Whatever we write on this paper, we’ve got to get it approved by the health department.”

As for liability, Walden and Phillips likened the situation to professional sports leagues, where attendees waive team owners’ liability for injury and damage when they purchase a ticket. Walden said attendees at a high school sports event also accepted the liability.

Davis said if the school is doing everything they can do to keep people safe, they are covered. He said if the district went against a state or local recommendation, they were opening themselves to the potential of liability.

Walden said he was all for bringing back sports, but he said the two discussions needed to be separate. He asked if they could pull out the athletic portion and approve that. He was told the plan had already been approved by the health department and had to be approved as written.

Smith said the Mercer County Health Department’s guidelines trump the Kentucky High School Athletic Association recommendations.

“If you want your kids to play, you’re going to do what needs to be done,” Smith said.

Montgomery moved to approve the document, and Walden seconded, saying he wanted to bring it to a vote.

He voted no, saying, “I want the athletes to play but there are other things I think should have been held separate.”

Everyone else voted yes and the motion was approved.

Phillips said he appreciated all the hard work the staff had done  over the weekend to draft the plan.

“We might have to do some things we don’t agree with personally, but we’ve got to get it done,” Phillips said.

The Mercer County Titans’ first home game will be against Taylor County on Friday, Sept. 18, at 7:30 p.m.

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