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By Jeri Davis and Kristen Hackbarth
Governor Steve Sisolak on Wednesday announced that full-contact sports in schools will be allowed to resume. That includes both practices and competitions, provided that they are regulated by the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA), the governing body in the state for high school sports.
High school sports were put on hold in March 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Minimal contact and non-contact sports were allowed to resume in October 2020 as part of the governor’s “Road to Recovery: Moving to a New Normal” action plan.
Resumption of school sports has been a touchy issue since last fall. At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, students, their parents and coaches protested outside the Sept. 8 Washoe County School District Board of Trustees meeting asking for sports to resume. At the time, WCSD Superintendent Kristen McNeill addressed the crowd, advising that the decision to resume school sports rested not with the district but rather with the NIAA.
NIAA’s nine voting members and 10 non-voting members are a mix of school and school district leaders from across the state. Of the nine voting members, four are from the Las Vegas area. Washoe County’s representatives include voting members WCSD Trustee Andrew Caudill and WCSD Student Athletics and Activities Coordinator Rollins Stallworth, and a third non-voting member.
Coaches and parents have argued that prohibiting sports has negatively impacted students in terms of mental and emotional health as well as academic success. Some are also concerned that students won’t get exposure to recruiters during their senior year of play, limiting opportunities for scholarships and college athletics.
The governor’s guidelines for school sports include several requirements. School districts will need to submit a plan for how they will implement safety precautions, including weekly COVID-19 testing for coaches, sports staff and student athletes.
For now, full-contact sports that are not governed by the NIAA will not be allowed to resume. Sisolak said this could change when the state turns over virus mitigation efforts to local jurisdictions on May 1.
Other school-related COVID-19 regulations are also set to change. Perhaps most importantly for districts looking to get more students into classrooms, buses will now be allowed to operate at 65% capacity. In some rural districts, social distancing in school facilities has been attainable but schools have remained on hybrid learning models as a result of not having enough buses to transport all of the their students to school under the previous 50% capacity limit.