Frederick County student-athletes and parents have made their desire to see interscholastic sports start immediately through protests, emails and a petition, but Frederick County Public Schools is committed to a March 1 return date.
FCPS superintendent David Sovine made that statement in an email on Monday, three days after more than 60 athletes and parents showed up for at least part if not all of a two-hour protest outside the FCPS Administative Building. It was the second protest outside the building in three days and featured athletes from the three FCPS high schools — James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando.
“Although the decision to begin on that date was difficult, waiting several weeks to begin the seasons will give us the best opportunity to maintain the health and safety of our school communities, keep schools operating in the hybrid model, and complete all three athletic seasons with limited interruptions,” said Sovine in the email.
On Jan. 5, the school board for FCPS reached a majority consensus agreeing with the division’s recommendation to delay interscholastic competition until March. Four of the seven board members agreed with the recommendation.
The dates for the FCPS seasons are March 1-27 for winter sports, March 29-April 24 for fall sports, and April 26-June 16 for spring sports. Winter and fall athletes will not be able to compete in the VHSL postseason. The VHSL winter season will be over by March 1 and the VHSL fall season regular season will essentially be over by the time FCPS schools are ready to compete due to minimum VHSL practice requirements. Spring sports will participate in the VHSL postseason and can compete as late as June 26 if they qualify for state competition.
In terms of the health of the school communities, FCPS reported 26 new COVID-19 cases on Jan. 4. On Monday, FCPS reported 18 new cases, with half of them students at the three high schools (including four each at Millbrook and Sherando). FCPS is hoping that COVID-19 numbers will improve by March 1, and that the vaccinations that are now being made available to FCPS employees will provide a safer environment for them to be around athletes and students in general.
Also at last week’s board meeting, FCPS voted to continue its hybrid learning model for the remainder of the school year. It gives high school students the chance to attend in-person classes two days per week, and FCPS wants to continue to provide in-person school as an option and avoid a COVID-19 shutdown.
FCPS also wants to try and avoid lengthy interruptions to its athletic schedule. At the time of last week’s board meeting, FCPS noted that there were eight athletic programs either in the Northwestern District or the Lord Fairfax Health District that had to be quarantined because of COVID-19.
One of the reasons why students protested for two hours on Friday was because they were hoping to talk with Sovine in person about the FCPS decision. (They were unable to do so.) Sovine said in his email he respected the students’ decision to protest.
“I respect everyone who has taken the time to share their perspectives on this issue,” Sovine said. “Those who took part in the protests outside of the FCPS Administration Building last week did so in a respectful manner, adhered to COVID-19 mitigation strategies, and were well organized.”
Multiple FCPS parents who emailed Sovine to express their frustration with the FCPS School Board decision last week — one of whom included a petition with more than 870 signatures on it to play sports immediately — were disappointed by Sovine’s response. Sovine responded to the parents with lengthy emails, but the words were the same in each.
Sovine said he felt it was important to issue a consistent message to everyone who emailed as opposed to making individualized responses.
“In responding to individuals who have contacted me regarding this decision, I have tried to clearly communicate the rationale behind the decision,” Sovine said. “I also think it’s important for everyone to recognize the high school [coordinators of student activities] spent months developing a variety of options to enable students to resume athletic competition safely and each option was considered. Many people were consulted on this matter including the CSAs, our high school principals, the Director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, physicians with Valley Health, and the school division’s Health and Safety Committee.”
As of 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday, VHSL data showed that 49 of 318 schools (15.4 percent) are not participating in the VHSL winter season. Not on that list are the Newport News and Hampton school divisions, which according to The Virginian-Pilot canceled their winter sports seasons on Tuesday.
Numerous people have pointed out that Frederick County is the only school division in the Lord Fairfax Health District to delay its winter season, and they’ve also noted that the rest of the Northwestern District and Region 4C, as well as the entire the Bull Run District, are attempting a VHSL winter season.
During an interview last Wednesday, Millbrook CSA Scott Mankins said FCPS was focused on doing what was best for its students, and wasn’t going to base its decision on what other school districts were doing.
“It’s like being a parent,” Mankins said. “When you’re raising children, you want to gather as much information as possible and make the best decisions for your children. That’s what we’re trying to do for our teams. We want every kid to have the opportunity to play this year. We did not cancel seasons.
“As a parent, we never let parents down the street decide what we were going to do. We’re not going to jump in [to the VHSL winter season], just because other school systems are jumping in if we don’t feel that’s the right and safe thing to do right now.”