Several COVID-19 cases reported in Cherokee and Volunteer athletic programs

Several students involved in athletic programs at both Cherokee and Volunteer High Schools have tested positive for COVID-19 and are now being quarantined.

Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the Review that all sporting events within the school system follow the TSSA, regional Athletic Director’s, and regional health guidelines and procedures.

The school system is reopening in the “red” phase, with consists of all teachers instructing virtually and allowing a maximum of 25% of HCS students to attend in-class instruction daily. However, Hixson told the Review that within the TSSAA recommendations, the region as a whole decided to allow students to participate in football and soccer, provided that the TSAA COVID-19 safety regulations are followed.

“Our board feels we need to provide as much normalcy as possible for our students,” Hixson told the Review. “This includes sports if done so in a safe manner.”

Three cases, 76 people in quarantine

Hixson told the Review that, as of Monday evening, one CHS baseball player, one CHS basketball player and one VHS football player have tested positive for COVID-19.

All of the other students and staff who were potentially exposed have been identified and are quarantining.

Hixson told the Review that the baseball player who tested positive had attended a senior night game/inter-squad scrimmage on August 8. As a result, eight students are quarantined and will be free to return on August 23.

As a result of the basketball player’s positive test, 11 students and two staff members are quarantined and will be free to return on August 25.

The VHS football player’s positive case was discovered Saturday night, resulting in 48 students and 7 staff members quarantining.

“The football team is quarantining from Aug. 7 per Northeast Regional Health Department recommendation,” Hixson said. “All three teams, or targeted members of, are quarantined for the required time period. All members and parents have been notified, according to coaches and site administrator. Players can’t come back until Aug. 22.”

The HCSS website is also regularly updated with this information.

Why online classes but in-person sports?

Under the system’s “red” phase, all teaching is “moved to remote learning, with the possibility of limited (up to 25% of total enrolled) small groups of in-person instruction and support scheduled by each school site based upon need,” according to the system’s reopening plan.

Small group, limited instructional settings will occur Monday through Thursday as determined by school sites.

“Academically, even though we are in the Red phase, students will be coming on site for small group support based upon need,” Hixson told the Review. “Each site will be working with parents and students to identify times students can have access, in safe manners, to site resources and support.”

After the Review initially reported the baseball player’s positive test in a brief, online press release on August 12, the Review received several reader comments and questions asking why educational courses were primarily online, yet students could participate in in-person athletic practices.

In regard to athletics, the system’s reopening plan reads, “Limited on-site activities may be allowed, following TSSAA, local, and regional health guidelines and recommendations from Governor Lee’s Executive Order No. 55.”

According to the Governor’s website, a portion of Executive Order No. 55 “Aligns the treatment of contact and non-contact sports so that no sports are prohibited by the state, provided that participants follow safety guidelines from their governing bodies or Tennessee Pledge guidelines, as applicable.”

The system reopening plan also specifies that schools will implement the Yellow Phase Screening Protocols and in addition, perform student temperature checks upon entry and/or bus loading.

Athletics may be suspended at any time, per data received.

A few of the TSAA COVID-19 requirements include:

Scrimmages and/or practicing with another team are not allowed.

Teams and players must follow local mandates and the rules of the facility regarding social distancing and cleaning protocols.

Schools are expected to substantially maintain social distancing between players, coaches and spectators.

Several other articles regarding specific TSAA regulations will be linked to the online version of this article.

“Giving parents options”

Within the TSSAA recommendations, the region as a whole decided to allow students to participate in football and soccer,” Hixson told the Review. “Each school system then needed board approval to proceed. Our board feels we need to provide as much normalcy as possible for our students. This includes sports if done so in a safe manner.”

He also added that parents are given options regarding whether their child participates in sports or not.

“We are presenting options for our parents,” Hixson said. “Those most concerned have been given the option to virtual learning for the entire semester. Those who want their students to eventually return, have opted for the normal school program. Sports participation represents an optional activity. Those who want their students to participate have been given that option due to the board’s decision. Those who feel sporting events are unsafe, can make the decision to not participate. In the end, we are aiming to work within the safety guidelines, while allowing for options for parents.”

He added, “As with our academic program, if there are cases or concerns which present themselves, in spite of our precautions, we reserve the right to shut down any activity for the sake of student safety. However, we are also very much aware that students need access to sports and activities, especially at this time.”

Looking to the fall, Hixson told the Review that “TSSAA stadium capacity is held to 50% normal seating capacity.”

“We will cap ticket sales to match that capacity,” he added. “Fans will be expected to safely distance themselves from other fans outside their family units.”