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CUMBERLAND — The Allegany County Board of Education on Monday approved an athletic plan for the 2020-2021 school year that allows students to practice fall sports beginning Oct. 7.

While the proposal was endorsed by state officials, most ACPS board members expressed frustration over having limited options with school sports as well as returning all students to in-class instruction.

“Putting athletics before education is not the intention,” BOE President Tammy Fraley said. 

“We have to follow the guidelines that were given to us,” she said. “We all want kids back in school.”

According to the plan, Oct. 7 will be the first available practice date for cross country, field hockey, football, golf, soccer and volleyball.

There will be seven available competition weeks beginning Oct. 27, with the exception of golf, which is set to start Oct. 7.

Winter sports will have eight available weeks of competition with practice beginning Dec. 14.

Spring sports will have nine available weeks of competition with practice starting March 15.

The board voted unanimously for the plan over a second option that would have set March 15 as the first available practice date for fall sports and have fewer weeks of competition for all seasons.

The approved plan is contingent upon sufficient numbers of participating schools to compete, and any changes from state officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

According to the Maryland Department of Health, “all individuals shall adhere to the face covering requirement and operating requirements including six feet social distancing between individuals and/or groups.” 

For contact sports, including wrestling, football and basketball, “play should be modified to safely increase distance” between players and follow CDC guidelines, MDH stated. 

Additionally, the state limits the number of people, including spectators, players and support personnel permitted in an indoor venue cannot exceed 50% of the facility’s maximum occupancy, or 100 people, whichever is less.

Outdoor venues are limited to the lesser of 50% maximum occupancy, or 250 people.

BOE member Robert Farrell said the board should send a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan to “get the kids back in school” and “have more spectators in the stands.”

BOE Vice President Deb Frank said the decision does not prioritize extracurricular activities over academics, but instead uses an option the state has provided.

The athletics plan will give more opportunities to students “that can only benefit them both physically and mentally,” she said.

“If we had total freedom to make decisions that once upon a time we could make as a board of education, things would be significantly different,” BOE member Ed Root said. 

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