By Linda Dillman
Hamilton Local Schools students can return to the basketball court and wrestling mat, among other sports and extracurricular venues, following action by the school board on Dec. 14.
A motion to allow students to participate and compete in the activities, as per orders by the governor and Ohio High School Athletic Association guidelines, was approved by a 4-1 vote by the Hamilton Schools Board of Education.
“Everybody has returned to play at this point,” said Hamilton Schools Superintendent Mark Tyler in referring to surrounding districts. “We actually stopped activity for a period of time. We’re currently not even practicing. I think we’re in the extreme minority of schools that did not practice during that time. The Ohio Capital Conference took a vote recently to return to play. Columbus Public is coming back as well. Our league (The Mid-State League) has never stopped playing.”
Tyler said his goal is to provide students with opportunities, but when someone asks him why Hamilton kids are not able to play when everyone else is able to do so, he said it is a difficult question to answer.
“I’m advocating we come back and operate pretty much the same way we did in the fall,” said Tyler.
Board member Amber Clark voted “no” on the motion because she said the statistics now are much worse than in the fall and, if students cannot be in school, then why are they able to participate in sports?
Clark said, in the fall, there were 95 cases of the coronavirus per 100,000 Franklin County residents. She said the most recent figures indicate there are now 726 cases per 100,000 residents.
“Even if we thought it was safe in August to do this, we’re eight-plus times higher now, transmission wise, than we were then,” said Clark. “I continue to be concerned and this is my same concern of being in school in general. I think our kids’ education is the number one priority. With sports, like wrestling with kids on top of each other but not being able to shake hands in the end, it just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”
When it came time to vote on the motion, Board member Jeff Sewell felt it was a decision left to a family and that the district should give families the option about going to school and participating in after-school activities.
“It’s up to us to give them the option of what we can safely provide for them to do,” stated Sewell.
Board member James Dommer said the board reserves the right to pull back any sport or extracurricular activity if case numbers start to rise.
Potential of return to school
Tyler said he is looking at two potential dates to return to a hybrid learning model, Jan. 4 and Jan. 19, which is the start of the second semester. He said he is monitoring the situation and hopes to make a decision—if possible—before the holiday break.
“The idea is fluid and flexible,” said Tyler.
He said the district went fully virtual primarily because of staffing—not enough to safely supervise children, specifically in transportation, but in other areas as well.