Education Health

After a tense debate Tuesday night, the Jefferson County Board of Education (JCBE) voted 5 to 2 to allow the winter sports season to begin on Wednesday. Winter sports teams, including basketball, wrestling, swimming, bowling and competitive cheer and dance, can begin practicing Wednesday, Jan. 20. Teams are allowed to begin competitions on Feb. 1.

The vote came after debate that was at times heated between board members. The majority were in favor of beginning the season for the sake of student athletes. But two members said they believed it was too dangerous to allow winter sports to begin while the city faces uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus.

Jefferson County has one of the highest infection rates in the state. 747 people in Jefferson County have died from the virus since March, including 32 people in the last week.

Board members said they received many emails from parents, coaches and community members urging them to greenlight winter sports. 

Member Linda Duncan said she was “very reluctantly” voting in favor of beginning on Jan. 20.

“We should not be sitting here making these medical decisions,” she said. “I think the medical community should be the one telling us what we should be doing and shouldn’t be doing.”

But she said she felt obligated to vote in line with what she said the majority of the constituents who contacted her wanted.

“I can’t tune it out,” she said.

But board member Corrie Shull, one of two members who voted no, said he was “deeply troubled” by the push to allow sports to continue. 

“So many of our students and our faculty and our staff have dealt with deaths as a consequence of it, and it just seems sort of inhumane to continue with this in this climate,” he said. 

“Please don’t be under any illusions about what you’re voting to go forward with,” member Chris Kolb told the board before the vote. Kolb was the other member who voted against allowing winter sports. He walked members through a lengthy slide presentation, in which he pointed to the high and growing infection rate in Jefferson County; the fact that winter sports are played indoors, where the virus spreads more easily; and warnings from Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack that more contacts lead to more infection and more death.

“You are voting to go forward with more suffering, more deaths in our community, more sickness, a longer-term outbreak in the community before we can get this thing under control,” Kolb said.

Board member James Craig, the board’s most vocal proponent of allowing in-person athletics, pushed back.

“The ‘yes’ votes tonight are not folks voting because they want children to die, or they want family members to die,” Craig said. Craig said he believed students would continue to mingle no matter what the board decided. And he argued that it’s unfair that JCPS students aren’t allowed to play sports, while students in other Kentucky school districts and private schools are participating.

“I remain so so frustrated that we’re asking them to sacrifice when no one else in the community is willing to make the same sacrifice,” Craig said.

Craig also said beginning on Jan. 20 was the recommendation of JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio. Pollio never formally presented this option as his recommendation but confirmed it was his recommendation after he was pressed by Kolb.

Board members Joe Marshall, Sarah Cole McInstosh, and board chair Diane Porter also voted in favor of moving forward with winter sports.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.