Education

Members of the the Kentucky Board of Education have concerns about the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s (KHSAA) timeline for fall sports, which allowed practices to begin this week. After nearly four hours of discussion Friday, members voted unanimously to send KHSAA a letter expressing concerns and calling for the association to give more guidance and alternatives to the current plan.

“While we all desire to return to some sense of normalcy, we continue forward by asking all along the way, ‘Is what we’re doing safe?'” board chair Lu Young said at the opening of the meeting.

In the days prior to the special meeting, the Kentucky Department of Education received around 12,000 phone calls, mostly from people who supported the KHSAA timeline, according to KDE spokeswoman Toni Konz Tatman. She said the department had even received threats over the issue.

The KHSAA guidance allowed all fall sports to begin practices on August 24, and all sports except football to start competitions on September 7. Football games are allowed to begin September 11. The timeline was the same plan adopted in July, before a statewide spike in coronavirus cases. On August 20, KHSAA board of control members voted 16-2 to keep the August 24 start-date.

Gov. Andy Beshear said he was “surprised” at the KHSAA decision to move forward, considering the change in the public health situation. But he stopped short of overturning it.

During Friday’s KBE meeting, several superintendents invited to participate expressed frustration with the “mixed messages” they say they are receiving from KHSAA, the governor’s office and KDE.

“We cannot ask the locals to do the work on these three different associations,” retired Boone County superintendent Randy Poe said. “We need these three different associations to be on the same page to give us guidance, so that we can make appropriate local decisions.”

Those differences were on display during Friday’s meeting. A presentation from KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett defending the group’s decision was followed by a presentation by Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack, who suggested that a decision to move forward with fall sports could mean death for more than a thousand Kentuckians.

But he stopped short of making a recommendation.

“I’m not here to tell you, ‘Oh, people are going to die, so don’t play sports.’ I’m just here to say, ‘I don’t know if people will die. How comfortable are we all allowing sports to happen?'” Stack said.

Tackett said the KHSAA timeline allows districts to make local decisions about starting sports. Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), for example, has adopted its own phased-in timeline, with high-contact sports like football starting later than low-contact sports like cross country. JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio, however, was not happy the decision has to be made at the local level.

After hearing from several superintendents, KBE member Sharon Porter Robinson said her takeaway was that districts wanted leadership more than local control in this instance.

“To say ‘local control, local control, local control,’ to me that feels like so lacking in courage and integrity. That that’s not a position I can take,” Robinson said. She added that she thinks there’s “more work to do,” around fall sports guidance.

Tackett said not all districts want top-down decisions on the sports question.

“It’s a challenge when one group is saying ‘we want local control until we don’t,’ and another group is saying ‘tell us what to do,'” he said.

The Kentucky Board of Education’s letter to the KHSAA will call for additional guidance, alternative options for high-contact sports and research into what other states are doing. That letter will be public once it is drafted by KDE staff and sent to KHSAA.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.