With "high-risk" high school sports starting up soon in many Long Island districts, instinct suggests that the eligibility and attendance rules should not only emulate those of normal times, but also double down on them.
Kids who don’t show up for class traditionally don’t get to practice and play sports. And that’s not just the coaches’ and schools’ rules. Many a parent has laid down the "too sick for school, too sick to play" rule, whether the athletics in question were scholastic, club or recreational.
That makes sense now, too. Academics trump athletics. They’re actually about 90% of the point of school. And since COVID-19 began, I’ve asked 50 or 60 education experts whether remote learning can provide the same quality of education for students as in-person classes, and the answer is unanimous: for most students, in-person teaches kids better.
Even so, many families have decided to keep their kids doing remote-only learning even if their schools are offering full-time, in-person classes or hybrids. But students who avoid classrooms because of COVID-19 certainly shouldn’t be allowed to practice and play sports, particularly not the high-risk winter sports of wrestling, basketball and cheerleading, right?
Wrong, at least in the Manhasset and Great Neck school districts, whose policy will be the exact opposite: students playing these sports cannot attend the in-person classes most students in the two districts attend two or three days a week.
The policy sounds like a prank, or the work of a brilliantly shady hypnotist hired by student-athletes to bewitch parents and educators:
"OK kids, we’ve decided to let you cheer and wrestle and play hoops, but if we catch you getting up early and braving the elements to physically attend school, you’re off the team. Throughout the season, all learning must be conducted from home, preferably from under the covers. Wake-up time is 29 seconds before first period. The school uniform is now footie pajamas, and surfing dating apps on your phone while you slurp hot chocolate and pretend to pay attention to classes on your computer is, while not required, encouraged."
I know not all kids want to stay home. Many miss pals and teachers and care about their studies. My youthful take on attendance would likely have been different had there been any chance of me passing a class or making a friend or having a fetching young lady fetch me from the Island of Misfit Toys that was my cafeteria table.
But something is off about this plan.
Superintendent after superintendent say their data show COVID-19 isn’t spreading in their schools, that their students and teachers who test positive don’t create in-school clusters before they are quarantined.
And the truth is most of these kids are better supervised at school than out. Who is making Timmy wear a mask when he gets together with Tommy to watch AP Bio from home? Beyond that, the most significant worries about spread via this age group is that it will lead to infections among vulnerable family members, not each other.
So if it’s safe for these student-athletes to begin playing these sports, they should do so while attending school in person as much as their district and family situation allow. If it’s unsafe for these student-athletes to play these sports, or it endangers others for them to attend in person while playing, seasons should be canceled.
And if they actually get to stay home from school and play, I want the name of their hypnotist, and price quotes for talking to spouses, bosses and IRS auditors.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.