The Waunakee school board held a special meeting Monday night, revisiting its decision to allow out-of-county competition among winter athletes before they return to the classroom.
The return of athletics has been a source of contention among community members. Athletes and their parents have advocated for an early return to competition, while school officials have stressed the need for a slow and measured approach.
The board of education initially approved a Jan. 11 start for medium- to high-risk competition. However, that date was later moved to Jan. 4 at the request of Waunakee coaches. The school board reaffirmed the Jan. 4 date Monday.
All competition would need to take place outside the county, due to local COVID-19 restrictions.
Vice president Mike Brandt called a special meeting this week to reconsider the board’s decision to allow the out-of-county competition, which would take place over the three weeks prior to reopening.
“I think we all want kids to be able to play sports,” Brandt said at the Jan. 4 meeting. “But what I’m concerned about here is that I haven’t really seen any compelling reason that suggests sending our teams to other counties, where the COVID situation is worse than Dane County and isn’t going to be mitigated in any useful way, should precede sending kids back to class.”
Brandt argued that in-person instruction should be prioritized over extra-curricular activities, noting that mitigation efforts would be more effective inside the classroom than on a court.
He added that instructors were making personal sacrifices to educate the district’s students.
“I don’t know how we can go to our staff and say that we can’t yet have kids sitting in class – six feet apart and distanced – but we’re going to authorize students to go out of county, into counties where their own health departments are saying ‘Don’t do this,’” Brandt said.
Director Mark Hetzel voiced opposition to rescinding the board’s motion, arguing that doing so would result in student-athletes taking part in events where less mitigation measures are enforced.
“I don’t see how negating that decision makes it safer,” Hetzel said. “I see it making us less safe, because as we mentioned – and in closed session – there’s a reality that, if this doesn’t happen, players will find a place to play in less controlled situations. And those same kids are going to come back to the classrooms with a greater potential for affecting the greater good.”
Director Brian Hoefer agreed, stating that the board had fulfilled its role in the matter.
“As far as the board is concerned, I think we have done everything we can,” Hoefer said. “We have made sure that everything we can possibly do as a board is set up for success. It is now on the administration and our staff, and our families, to do it and to follow through with what we’ve put in place.”
A motion to rescind the board’s decision to allow medium- to high-risk competition in January failed by a 6-1 vote, with Brandt casting the only vote in favor of vacating the existing decision.
Treasurer Jack Heinemann motioned to bolster enforcement of the winter sports’ COVID protocol.
The move would have resulted in athletes who take part in non-sanctioned sporting events being removed from Waunakee athletic teams for the remainder of the 2020-21 winter sports season.
However, the motion was tabled and failed to receive a vote during the meeting. President Dave Boetcher explained that not taking the motion off the table was essentially “another way of voting it down.”
Board members have set a target date of Jan. 26 for reopening grades 5-12 to in-person learning and will meet next on Jan. 11, to discuss its reopening plan. That date has remained static since November, and would allow more than 2,500 students to finish the 2020-21 school year in a hybrid format as opposed to the virtual one they have had since spring.