Though Fulton County school students are reportedly happy to be back in classrooms and reunited with friends, a new normal created by the coronavirus pandemic has altered their comprehensive education.
State-enforced COVID restrictions the county’s schools are following to remain open have placed a moratorium on some of their extracurricular activities and added a sour note to the high school marching bands.
Pettisville Local Schools Interim Superintendent Ken Boyer reviewed a 12-page list of state and health department regulations last Thursday that includes the suspension of extra-curriculars. Social distancing rules have, for now, eliminated any chance of concert performances, stage musicals, and other activities outside the classroom.
“Right now, you just can’t have gatherings of 10 or more people. At this point, no extra-curriculars are an option,” he said.
Boyer lamented the loss, saying, “It’s very important. It’s part of the school experience but the environment we have today, that option’s been taken away from us. We don’t have any option but to comply. It’s not a good thing.”
The school district is adhering to the state and health orders day to day, “waiting for the next order, and seeing how we’re going to comply to that,” he added. We’re doing everything we can to keep the school open. We’re going to try to make it the best experience we can for (the students).”
The Archbold High School Marching Band practices outside as often as weather permits, but COVID restrictions are also required outdoors. Fortunately, the musicians traditionally keep step on the field facing forward and at a distance of 7.25 feet apart, beyond social distancing’s six-foot stipulation. At times during their performance players must interact at a closer distance, but never for more than a safer five-minute exposure time and with the open air helping to protect them.
‘The goal is to practice outside as much as possible because it’s safer,” Band Director Beth Voll said.
Voll said all music students are assisted by a sizable anonymous donation of bell covers for their instruments, which helps prevent the spread of airborne droplets.
A separate donation of gaiters – masks surrounding the neck that can be pulled up to the nose quickly – will be used by marching band members during six-foot distancing before and after performing on Friday nights.
Inside practices are conducted in the school auditorium, where masks are mandatory and space allows for proper distancing and gives trombone players an extra three-foot berth due to the instrument’s slider.
The school district held band camp the last full week in July, and the students were much more adaptive to the coronavirus processes than she imagined, Voll said.
“We really did not have any push-back from our kids at all. They were really motivated,” she said. “I feel like the health department and administration gave us the tools to make it safe. I think we have a really strong plan in place, and I’m excited for the football season.”
The coronavirus has caused Fayette Local Schools to make changes to their sports program but golf, cross country and volleyball will move ahead. Superintendent Angie Belcher the school district will conform as closely as possible with its league, the Buckeye Border Conference.
Regulations will include not admitting fans until just prior to the game and limiting attendance among athletes’ families and visitors. Vouchers will be distributed rather than tickets.
Spectators will be required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks before being admitted. All athletes and coaches will undergo temperature and symptom checks before each game and practice, and players will wear masks when not active in a game.
Sanitizer will be available, and no concessions will be sold at games.
Other extra-curricular activities in the school district have been hit harder. FFA members will conduct meetings virtually. Choir will remain an elective course but won’t hold concerts and will practice in a room large enough to guarantee ample distancing. Stage productions are out, and National Honor Society and Student Council will continue to meet, although the state has yet to make clear what, if any, events they may sponsor.
“We’ll do as many as we can do, according to the governor’s orders,” Belcher said.
The fate of other extra-curriculars are also uncertain, since all group functions are canceled.
“Everything’s minimized. We’re just trying to keep our students here and give them the most under the current orders,” Belcher said.
According to state directives, high school marching bands can perform only at home games. Pike-Delta-York’s band members will limit those performances to 10 minutes, and will take all the instructed precautions on the field, including social distancing.
“If they have to be close on the field they’re not too close for any long period of time,” Superintendent Ted Haselman said.
The precautions include bell covers for the instruments to help mitigate the spread of droplets. The covers cost the school district a few thousand dollars “but it was well worth it to allow our students to participate in the activity that they love,” he said.
The players will use absorbent pads for their instruments’ water keys, and each has been given a waiter’s-type apron for practices to hold their personal belongings to alleviate sharing of materials. Band members will wear masks when not performing, wash their hands frequently, and check their temperatures at home before each game. Upon arriving at the stadium they’ll be asked questions regarding their health.
Haselman said band director Amy Bostwick “has done a fantastic job through band camp taking precautions to ensure the health and safety of our band members.” Band members were given symptom checks each day of the camp.
“Our students have done a fantastic job because they want to continue playing in marching band. They’re taking this seriously,” Haselman said.
Families of band members will be allotted a limited amount of tickets for each game to watch their children perform and will follow safety protocols during the games.
Many of the school district’s other extra-curricular activities are still a go, but they’re taking the same coronavirus precautions, Haselman said. The district’s Art Club, Science Club, school newspaper, and FFA chapter will proceed, “but we don’t know what types of activities, such as competitions, will take place.”
School musicals and concerts are also questionable. “Those things are still up in the air as we continue to work through the uncharted waters,” he said.
Haselman said he’s unhappy that COVID-19 regulations may rob students of the full experience of extra-curriculars.
“It’s unfortunate, but in these times having some is better than having none,” he said. “It breaks my heart that we have to make changes to what opportunities are open to these kids. But we will do everything we can to safely allow them the opportunity.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.