Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4 p.m.) While many schools in Virginia will start their winter sports seasons next month, Arlington Public Schools will not follow suit.

Some parents and a School Board member urged Superintendent Francisco Durán to reverse course on this decision during the School Board meeting held that night. They argued that other jurisdictions in Virginia — including neighboring Fairfax County — are gearing up to play sports, and that not participating harms students in the short- and long-term.

“We’ve already taken school away from our kids,” said Megan Newfeld, a parent of a high school aged-son who plays golf. “It’s now enough.”

Not providing public school sports makes it harder for kids who cannot afford private or travel teams to improve, she said. Further, she added that all students who are competitive and looking to get recruited by colleges will be at a disadvantage.

Durán said the Virginia High School League (VHSL) allows each district to determine whether to participate in winter sports, which include swim and dive, basketball, wrestling, and indoor track and field. APS declined because it would not align with the return-to-school plan, he said.

“Participating in sports while continuing distance learning does not send a consistent message,” Durán said.

APS will revisit the metrics to see about participating in “season two” sports — sports like football, cross country and golf, which are usually played in the fall and which mostly are played outdoors — he said. Winter sports, by contrast, are mostly played indoors.

School Board member Tannia Talento asked Durán to reconsider the decision, in part because students are already doing conditioning on school grounds.

“These students are in these places already and doing work, and it’s at the high school, where they are more aware of conditions,” said Talento.

Although it is not consistent with the return to school plan, which is on hold, she said “we have to weigh everything individually and holistically and make compromises where we can.”

Yorktown High School boys basketball coach Joe Reed lamented the decision in a tweet, writing the his “heart goes out to my players, especially the seniors.”

An online petition calling for APS to reverse its decision has garnered more than 1,250 signatures as of 3:45 p.m.

“The benefits of team sports go far beyond exercise — improved academics, teamwork, leadership, positive mentorships and overall improved mental health,” the petition says. “For this school year, these factors are even more important as many Arlington teenagers are at home struggling with virtual learning and missing out on the normal activities of their high school years.”

“As the superintendent and school board of a county with large disparities of wealth, it is even more important that APS offer sports for those who cannot afford to play elsewhere,” the petition adds.

Late Friday afternoon, the pro-school-opening group Arlington Parents for Education also weighed in with a statement.

“Not only is VHSL proceeding with the season, but thousands of Arlington children have been participating in youth, club and travel sports all fall with absolutely no outbreaks,” the group said. “Durán’s only rationale on not allowing athletic competition is ‘consistency, ‘which is a self-fulfilling argument that since APS is failing to provide the in-person support and instruction many of our children need for academics, it may as well do the same for sports.”

The VHSL, a statewide sports league comprising public and private high schools, approved a Championship + 1 schedule in September that would allow students to play 60% of their sport’s regular season schedule, starting in December, with modified regional and state championships.

On Oct. 29, Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order that allows the proposed VHSL schedule to begin in December as scheduled. In a statement published by VHSL, Northam said the league been a partner during the pandemic and has drafted thoughtful guidelines for reinstating sports.

“Keeping our student athletes safe is critical during this pandemic,” Northam said. “I know I join many parents in looking forward to the safe return of school sports.”

VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun welcomed the news, saying in the statement that the amendment “clears the way for all of our sports to play.” The league drafted guidelines for playing sports that include limits on attendees, cleaning and disinfecting recommendations, masking and social-distancing.

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