ASHLAND -- Hanover County Public Schools officials announced last week that winter sports in county schools can resume preparation and practice on Monday, Jan. 4, when students return from winter break.
The teams will play an abbreviated in-county only competitive schedule, and eighth-graders will be eligible to try out for high school teams.
No winter sports will be offered for middle school students, and teams that qualify for post season playoffs will be allowed to participate.
In a statement released by HCPS last week, officials noted factors that could influence decisions moving forward. “We will continue to monitor this closely and make any decisions regarding sports or our daily operations that may be necessary. In order to ensure a successful sports season, we need every person in our community to stay vigilant in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.”
Earlier this month, a number of students and parents urged Hanover County School Board members to reconsider a decision to suspend winter sports practices.
“We are completely aware of the risks and the precautions needed to make the season successful and are completely onboard with doing whatever it takes and whatever is needed to ensure that we are allowed to play,” Hanover High School swimmer Henry Atkinson said during a public comment period at this month’s school board meeting.
Apparently, those appeals did not fall on deaf ears as Hanover becomes one of the few metro counties participating in winter sports. Officials said the decision was accompanied by full school board support.
Students who spoke at the meeting said the lack of winter sports left a noticeable void in their athletic pursuits, and some said the decision could even affect their ability to obtain college scholarships.
Most cited the emotional impact of sports and the ability to interact with teammates. For some seniors, it was their last chance.
“In the short time I’ve participated in track conditioning, my mental health has vastly improved and I find myself more positive and happy to be in school,” said Autumn Just as she asked board members to restore the indoor track season.
Spectators will not be allowed at winter sports events.
As parents and students plan for second semester in Hanover’s continuing optional instruction, more of them are opting for a return to face-to-face instruction. Accommodating all of those requests is a top priority for school administration, according to Jennifer Greif, assistant superintendent for instructional leadership.
Most of those requests are from parents whose children chose online elementary instruction last semester, but are seeking a return to in-class instruction for the second term.
More than 500 parents are requesting a return to face-to-face instruction in elementary grades, while only 10 requested to switch from face-to-face to online.
Regarding the numbers, Greif said “they’re not evenly distributed” among campuses “so that makes staffing and reallocating resources a little more challenging.”
Additional elementary staffing has been acquired to accommodate the large number of students wishing to return to in-class instruction.
While the challenges vary in middle and high school in accommodating the requests, solutions will require flexibility and some teachers could teach both online and in-class.
“As we said in the fall, we knew the major challenge for second semester is the rearranging, and the rearranging is sometimes going to impact teachers or students who aren’t ever changing their learning setting,” Greif said.
Greif said the requests are necessitating staffing adjustments and some high school students currently enrolled in online classes might return to campus for some classes while taking others online.
“We are looking to reallocate our resources to accommodate as many requests as we can,” Greif said.
Requests for ELS students, disabled learners and Pre-K-3 learners are considered first, followed by attention to students who are struggling academically “in their current settings” or students who are having technological problems that have not currently been solved.
Officials also are exploring options to expand elementary art, physical education, and library learning opportunities, addressing some concerns expressed by parents earlier this fall.
“We are trying to work through some better options on that,” Greif said.
Parents also had requested a second elective option for middle school students, but Greif said the idea of “remixing” students didn’t seem viable, but said mini-electives would be available for “enrichment.”
Plans for the second semester are ongoing and schedules are being compiled as re-staffing and reorganizing staff continues.
Greif said one constant does, however, remain.
“What has not changed between semester one and semester two is that our health plan mitigation strategies will still be followed,” Greif said. “They are just as important on Feb. 3 as they are today: making sure we have appropriate social distancing, hand hygiene and mask wearing, and all of the other strategies we have been carrying through the fall semester.”
Superintendent Michael Gill said school officials are working overtime to adjust to meet the requests and maintain choices for parents and students.
“We are continuing to do everything we can to maintain both options. We continue to plan for the second semester and do everything we can to honor both of those options,” Gill said.