On Monday this week Matanzas High School Principal Jeff Reaves wrote parents of student-athletes that one of the Matanzas student athletes tested positive for Covid-19. The next day, the school board said it would vote for delaying school’s opening to Aug. 24, and on Wednesday, the district announced the indefinite postponement of fall sports. FlaglerLive has been in contact with the mother of the student who tested positive. She agreed to write about the experience from the perspective of a parent directly impacted by the virus, with suggestions for the district as it crafts its reopening strategies. We are withholding the name of the parent, a Palm Coast resident, to protect both hers and her son’s identity.
The first draft of this piece was shaping up to look like a multifaceted saga explaining all the lengths my family went through to avoid getting the coronavirus–and getting it anyway.
It was drenched in graphic descriptions of our miserable symptoms, because people want to know: the anxiety that goes with not knowing how long we will feel awful and the under-lining fear that if or when we get over it, it might happen again. The aggravation of waiting for test results and sitting imprisoned in our own home, separate from and missing each other. Trying to work from an iPad that was purchased in a pinch because half the household (my office included) is under quarantine. I am on this end of the house, worrying about getting us through it and keeping our bills paid. My son is on his end of the house, worrying if I blame him for getting me sick (I don’t) and worrying if his team blames him for Fall sports getting pushed back. And so on.
But there’s more to it. I am writing this article because I know that important meetings are taking place right now in the Flagler County school district to decide if we are ready to open the schools, and other important meetings are taking place to decide if there will be Fall sports this year. (The district this week announced all fall sports are postponed indefinitely.) Since my son’s diagnosis has been discussed publicly, I thought I’d weigh in on the decisions. His input and mine could shed helpful light on the challenges the district faces, as do we as parents and as do students.
Let me clarify for the record once and for all: my son did not likely contract the Covid-19 virus at his football conditioning workouts. Matanzas’s coaching staff has always maintained strict adherence to temperature checks, social distancing, separate waters, no shared equipment, no contact, in keeping with district guidelines. Simply put, the days or the circumstances don’t add up to an infection during conditioning, according to the health department’s contact tracers. It was out of an abundance of caution that the coach and team were notified that he was being tested, and ultimately tested positive.
Right now in every household, community, and state throughout the United States, everyone with kids is grappling with the decision of whether or not they will be safe returning to school. The decision cannot be taken lightly. We have to consider whether certain members of households would survive if they were to get infected with Covid-19. I can only speak for my family when I say how tough this decision is, because I am high risk. This decision has been tougher for me because my son is going to be a senior. I can’t just say to him: “Stay home now and hopefully there will be a vaccine and you can go back next year.” There is no next year. This is it. This is his final year to cement his GPA and to showcase his athletic talent for a chance for a college scholarship.
Imagine for a moment what all the junior and senior student-athletes are feeling. Most of them started playing their sports when they were 4 or 5 years old. Over the years they have sacrificed going to birthday parties, they’ve stayed up late on weekends, they’ve eaten junk food (sometimes), and as in my son’s case, they’ve sustained many stitches and injuries. As parents of student athletes, we packed in our car for long road trips, spent tons of dollars on lessons, equipment, road-food, physicals, admission fees, and we spent hours upon hours in several types of weather to give our kids a shot to play, and hopefully a chance to get noticed for a college scholarship. As the decisions are being made regarding our return to school and with Fall sports on the table, please don’t forget to consider all that they have sacrificed.
Instead, let’s adopt a strategy to reduce the spread. In my opinion–and now, unfortunately, my experience–we cannot take half measures to prevent catching or passing this virus. We need as a town and a district a firm mask mandate that is strictly enforced. We cannot merely “strongly encourage” our kids to wear masks at school, at least in middle and high school. Frankly, many students don’t have the wherewithal to determine if they are socially distanced. We can’t accept our sheriff’s position that the mandates that have been adopted are “un-enforceable.” Other cities and counties are enforcing mandates, and the evidence is clear that mandates are reducing the spread.
If Palm Coast has a mandate, I follow it, even if I don’t agree – that is the deal. Palm Coast has a mask mandate. We need the sheriff to understand that if the city adopts a rule, he is required to enforce it. It is completely unrealistic to expect businesses trying to recover from the recent shutdown to “police” their customers and call them in for trespass if they don’t wear masks. It won’t likely happen, and people like my son (who wore a mask) will unknowingly get infected and suffer.
Whether the sheriff enforces the three cities in place in the county or isn’t material to the school district, which can–and should–have its own enforceable mandate on its middle and high school campuses. Which brings me to whether we should have Fall Sports: Absolutely! But as with school, it will not look or feel “normal.” So far the decision has been to move the practice start date out to August 24, a month away. It probably was a good decision. But it was only a good decision if certain actions are being taken to reduce the virus in our community. Otherwise it is just kicking the can down the road.
Maybe we should look at some type of “bubble.” I am not suggesting marooning the kids to some island (at least not yet). But I am suggesting some type of agreement between the coaches, the students and their families to reduce and limit their exposure during their sports season. Maybe allow each player two to three tickets per game to hand out to whomever for entry, separating everyone in the stands accordingly, assuming crowd size limits are enforced. Maybe telecast or webcast the games on a channel for everyone else, just as classes are to be streamed.
And keep brainstorming. We need to get creative here. So much is riding on this. For some kids, this isn’t just a season. It’s their last. Let’s not end it before it starts.