School districts remote on Long Island allow high school sports to continue

NASSAU COUNTY (WABC) -- While thousands of students in four school districts in Nassau County are in remote learning this week due to high COVID numbers among students and staffing shortages, high school student athletes in those districts are being allowed to continue with practices and games, Eyewitness News has learned.

Students in Hicksville, Baldwin, Freeport and Wyandanch are remote this week, but high school athletes in those districts are participating in practices and games. In Baldwin, all high school extracurricular activities are cancelled except for sports.

"Due to the number of positive COVID-19 cases reported to the district, the district did not have the adequate staff needed to safely offer in-person instruction this week," Gina Talbert, the Superintendent of the Wyandanch School District, said. "The staffing issue did not interfere with the continuation of athletic practices and games."

The Freeport School District said it made the decision to go remote this week over concerns that it would not have enough staff or teachers.

"That decision did not impact the continuation of athletic practices and games and the district is testing all athletes," said Superintendent Kishore Kuncham.

The decision by the schools to allow athletes to continue to gather - despite Long Island having the highest infection rate in New York State - was made in conjunction with Section VIII - the governing body for public high school sports in Nassau County.

"There is no data saying that the virus has been transmitted during a sporting event," said Patrick Pizzarelli, the head of Section VIII.

Pizzarelli said it's important that student athletes be able to continue to meet.

"These kids lost so much," he said of the last two years.

The Nassau County Department of Health said it has no jurisdiction over the schools' decisions to allow sports to continue during this time. However, in January 2021, the Nassau County Department of Health was responsible for giving schools the "go-ahead" for high-risk winter sports.

Marianne Litzman, the Superintendent of the Hicksville School District said in a statement to Eyewitness News, "Over the weekend, the number of positive Covid 19 cases reported to the district by staff and students exceeded our means to open school safely for in person instruction with adequate staffing. After our athletic department communicated with Section VIII, the decision was made to continue high school athletic practices and games after school."



Nearly every school in Suffolk County is conducting in-person learning this week, so indoor sports there are continuing as normal.

"Student athletes want to participate," said Tom Combs, head of Section VI in Suffolk County. "They work hard 365 days a year for their sport. Some are looking for college scholarships."

The New York State Department of Health's guidance for schools says nothing about whether schools that go to remote learning should continue to permit student athletes to practice and compete.

The guidance states generally about sports in schools: "Schools must consider the range of mitigation measures available to them ... including vaccination, screening testing and, if necessary, canceling all sports and extracurricular activities in counties with high transmission. High risk sports and extracurricular activities should be virtual or cancelled in areas of high community transmission unless all participants are fully vaccinated."

Kellenberg Memorial High School, whose students are in remote learning Monday and Tuesday, said in an email to families December 20 that it would allow athletes to participate in practices and games on Monday January 3 and Tuesday January 4.

When Eyewitness News contacted Kellenberg on Monday, they said they had decided to cancel all sports and extracurricular activities for the two days that the rest of the student body is in remote learning.

Chaminade High School, which is remote Monday and Tuesday as well, said in a message to parents December 20 that athletic teams would have regular practices and competitions January 3 and 4.

Eyewitness News attempted to reach administrators at Chaminade to confirm if their athletes are gathering Monday and Tuesday, but our phone calls and emails were not returned.

The Ross School in East Hampton is allowing its athletes to practice this week, but not participate in games.

"Unlike our peers in the area, we at Ross School have mandated vaccination for all populations," said the school's Director of Communications Dan Roe. "The rise in cases of COVID-19 paired with the inability of our extramural sporting opponents to provide proof of vaccination of all members of their teams forces us to pause competitive sports."

Dr. Matthew Harris, a pediatric emergency doctor at Northwell Health, said schools are in a tough position trying to balance in-person learning with sports participation.

Harris said indoor sports are risky, but said they can be played safely with masks and requiring vaccinations for all participants. He said playing sports is important to ensure normalcy for children.

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