Board approves return of Marching Knights and fall sports

The+North+Penn+School+Board+met+Wednesday%2C+August+26%2C+to+discuss+the+return+of+the+Marching+Knights+and+fall+sports.

The North Penn School Board met Wednesday, August 26, to discuss the return of the Marching Knights and fall sports.

After a lengthy Wednesday night School Board meeting, North Penn High School Marching Knights (NPMK) and fall sport athletes are one step closer to a return to normalcy.

The Board held a special meeting to hear community input on whether or not to allow fall sports and NPMK to continue with their seasons. Over a dozen parents, students, and coaches joined the virtual meeting and voiced nearly unanimous support for both activities to return.

Please know that the NPMK parents strongly support some semblance of a season. We wouldn’t allow them to be out rehearsing in the sun during this challenging time if we didn’t support the band.”

— Parent of a sophomore Marching Knight

“Marching band is not a contact sport…they have already been rehearsing outside in small pods by instrument. Students are wearing masks whenever possible and they are separated as much as possible…the NPSD is known for its music programs and numerous options to play available to students…Please know that the NPMK parents strongly support some semblance of a season. We wouldn’t allow them to be out rehearsing in the sun during this challenging time if we didn’t support the band. So please, let the music play,” encouraged one sophomore parent.

Another parent brought up the fact that coaches will provide things that teachers simply cannot do virtually.

“The coaches provide a set of eyes on the student to see how they are actually doing, something that can’t necessarily be seen while working online,” they said.

Many of the parents who called in recognized the fact that there is a risk to allowing fall sports, but that NPMK and sports are voluntary, and they “know what they’re signing up for.”

“I feel like the benefits of kids returning to normal activity outweighs the risks,” said parent and former tennis coach Kristina Alling.

The Board heard from one student athlete who emphasized the feeling of togetherness that comes from the community supporting North Penn High School’s sports teams.

To be able to stream the football game or the field hockey game on Youtube, would really be able to connect everyone and help us forget that we are in this crazy time. I really think North Penn has the ability to do that.”

— Colin Davis, NPHS Senior and Football Player

“I believe that with how the world is going right now, we need to bring back a sense of normalcy…For the past month or two months for some people, we have been doing safe practices with mask wearing, social distancing, temperature checks, using sanitizer whenever we can. To be able to stream the football game or the field hockey game on Youtube, would really be able to connect everyone and help us forget that we are in this crazy time. I really think North Penn has the ability to do that,” voiced senior football player Colin Davis.

After the Audience of Citizens concluded, NPHS Principal Pete Nicholson delivered a presentation on the NPMK’s plan to safely execute their fall season. Nicholson explained that since NPMK rehearsals began on July 9, students have had temperature checks before every rehearsal, quarantined for 14 days if they traveled to a COVID “hot spot” area, worn masks whenever and as often as possible, and rehearsed in smaller groups by instrument.

For the full presentation, see here.

Despite having logged 133 hours of rehearsal time, there have been 0 reported cases of COVID-19 (1 staff member case was discussed with the Montco Department of Health, but it was discovered that the case had not been caused or related to NPMK rehearsals).

In terms of competing, all competitions will be virtual. Each performance ensemble (woodwinds, brass, percussion, and color guard) will rehearse and compete separately, then record performances to submit to competitions. For football games, performances will also be prerecorded and played during halftime. Regardless of what is being performed and recorded, parents will not be allowed on campus. 

The School Board unanimously voted to allow the Marching Knights to continue with their season.

The Board then turned to NPHS Athletic Director Bill Bartle to discuss what safety measures had been implemented to keep student athletes safe if fall sports return. Athletes gradually began returning to workouts on July 1, and even with consistent attendance across all sports, there have been 0 COVID cases attributed to these workouts.

For Bartle’s full presentation, see here.

Bartle thoroughly explained the steps being taken across the athletic department, including quarantineing an entire team if one member tests positive for COVID, requiring masks when not actively participating in a sport (dugout, sideline) but not requiring them when actively participating, contacting athletes who did not attend a workout to find out why they weren’t there, and capping outdoor capacity at 250 and indoor capacity at 25.

NPTV and The Knight Crier will work to stream as many sporting events live as possible, because as Bartle emphasized, “there are no spectators allowed at any sports.”

The Board then discussed athletic scholarships, noting that fall sports gives many students opportunities that they otherwise would not have access to.

“For some of our students, they really are dependent on the ability to have access to college and education through the scholarship money that they will be offered,” said Board member Elisha Gee.

The Board then entered a final discussion before voting whether or not to allow fall sports to continue.

As a Board member, I still have to make a decision that’s more than one student. I’m responsible for all students.”

— Christian Fusco, NPSD Board VP

“While parents are saying ‘it’s my child, it’s my choice’, as a Board member, I still have to make a decision that’s more than one student. I’m responsible for all students,” expressed Board Vice President Christian Fusco.

“Am I comfortable approving a high risk sport before I’m comfortable trying to get kids back into school,” Fusco added.

As with all COVID-19 related matters, Board Member Jonathan Kassa reminded the community that these decisions are fluid.

What we may approve today doesn’t mean that these matters don’t change a month from now.”

— Jonathan Kassa, NPSD Board Member

“What we may approve today doesn’t mean that these matters don’t change a month from now,” Kassa said.

In a role call vote, Board members Al Roesch, Tim MacBain, Dr. Wanda Lewis-Campbell, and Christian Fusco voted “Nay.” Juliane Ramic, Jonathan Kassa, Elisha Gee, Cathy Wesley, and Board President Tina Stoll voted “Yea”.  All four “Nay” votes voted that way because they wanted to discuss football separately, and not include it with all other sports.

With a vote of 5-4, fall sports will resume at North Penn High School. Golf may begin on September 3, Tennis on September 8th, Cross Country, Field Hockey, Soccer, Water Polo, and Volleyball on September 21st, and Football on October 2. The situation will be evaluated on a day to day basis based on the trajectory of COVID-19 data and the health of coaches and athletes.

After nearly 3 hours, the Board shifted gears to discuss transportation in relation to athletics. Social distancing will be strictly practiced on buses, with less than 50% capacity (21 people on an 84 seat bus). In addition to this, the Board changed a policy, so parents may now drive their student athlete to an event. They are not required to travel on a bus with their team.

The final item on the agenda was to discuss reduction in employee hours. As a result of virtual learning, over 600 district employees have been reduced to part time hours. This includes over 200 special education assistants, school nutrition service workers, secretaries, security guards, custodians, library employees, transportation employees, and receptionists. 

It is not something that any of us want to do…It s weighing on all of us that we have to do this.”

— Elisha Gee, NPSD Board Member

“It is not something that any of us want to do. Certainly we are saddened by this…we all would like to just sit here by these screens until COVID-19 goes away and we don’t have to reduce anyone’s hours. It is weighing on all of us that we have to do this,” voiced Gee.

However, the Board did vote to allow these workers to continue to receive health benefits during this period, something not all local districts are doing.

“It really needs to be emphasized that this plan, while short of just keeping everybody fully employed in a virtual environment, when there really isn’t a sufficient amount of work for that to be the case, comes as close to that as possible,” added Fusco.

The next virtual Board meeting will be held at 7pm on September 8th. See here if you would like to make public comment.