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What does the ‘MI Safe Schools’ return to school roadmap say about high school sports? Here’s a look

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, July 1, 2020, 10:33 am

While the biggest sports-related takeaway from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s news conference on Tuesday was an answer to a question near the end of the hour-long media session, the plan she was there to unveil did address how school-based athletics may look in the fall.

As the state still grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Whitmer unveiled the MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap, outlining the safety plan that must be put in place before Michigan’s K-12 schools reopen in the fall for in-person instruction. 

Near the end of her discussion of the plan, she noted in a response to a question about school sports that she’d asked the Michigan High School Athletic Association to look into the feasibility of changing its scheduling to move the sports that require closer contact between participants to the spring, and replace them in the fall with some of the spring’s individual, outdoor-based sports. The MHSAA had previously looked into the idea, and the governor said they told her they’d have a response by the end of July. 

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RELATED: Gov. Whitmer to MHSAA: Consider moving contact sports back from the fall

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But the roadmap itself does look at how schools can re-incorporate athletics into their curriculum, provided Michigan continues to move toward recovery, rather than relapse.

“The Michigan High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations are continuing to develop guidance for how sports can be played safely, and so we’re calling on schools to follow that guidance,” Whitmer said.

The roadmap was assembled with the instruction of the ‘Return to School Advisory Council,’ as well as a task force of experts from the health and education fields, and includes the criteria that must be met and safety measures that must be implemented to return to in-person instruction in K-12 schools in the fall. The plan included scenarios for the extent of the measures needed, based on the current phase of recovery for each separate region of the state  — ranging from no reopening for regions in phases 1-3, limited reopening for regions in phases 4-5, and reopening ‘with minimal required safety protocols’ for regions in phase 6.

Currently, most of the state — with the exception of the northernmost counties in the Lower Peninsula and all of the Upper Peninsula, which are in phase 5 — are still in phase 4, but those could all change given the recent uptick in positive tests. 

School-based athletics are addressed in each of the phases, with the safety precautions ranging from ‘required’ in phase 4 to ‘strongly recommended’ and ‘recommended’ in phase 5, to ‘no longer required’ in phase 6. 

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Athletics are suspended in phases 1-3. 

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Phase 4:

(All required)

• Competitions allowed, as long as they are in compliance with MHSAA and NFHS guidelines, all equipment is disinfected before and after, and all participants confirm they’re healthy and symptom-free. 

• Spectators are allowed, with facial coverings and six feet of separation, but large-scale indoor spectator events are suspended, and outdoor events limited to 100 people.

• Indoor conditioning/use of weight rooms suspended. Outdoor conditioning is allowed, with social distancing. 

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Phase 5:

(All strongly recommended or recommended)

• Spectators limited to 50 at indoor events, and 250 at outdoor events, with social distancing strongly recommended. (SR)

• Participants confirm they’re healthy/symptom-free before each event, and proper hygiene and cleaning used by participants and for equipment and transportation. (SR)

• Indoor weight rooms/conditioning allowed with social distancing. (R)

• Unnecessary contact (handshakes, fist bumps, etc.) eliminated. (R)

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Phase 6:

• Safety protocols no longer required.

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RELATED READING:

Gov. Whitmer to MHSAA: Consider moving contact sports back from the fall (June 30)

• New allowance from from governor’s office doesn’t change much: Schools allowed to resume sports activities prior to end of 2019-20 school year (June 12)

• MHSAA updates guidelines, allowing northern Michigan schools to move workouts indoors starting Wednesday (June 9)

• MHSAA adjusts to curveball of early lifting of stay-at-home order, amends guidance doc for reopening sports  (June 2)

• Gov. Whitmer lifts stay-at-home order early, providing increasing clarity on ‘when’ high school sports can resume (June 1)

• MHSAA releases ‘Guidance for Opening School Sports’ document, outlining a roadmap of ‘how’ high school sports can resume in Michigan (May 29)

• Friday’s roadmap from MHSAA will give ‘how’ school athletics will return, but maybe not ‘when’: ‘We still can’t rush this’ (May 28)

• MHSAA gives schools heads up that ‘Guidance for Opening School Sports’ is coming next week (May 22)

• Q&A with MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl, after Friday’s decision to cancel remaining 2019-20 sports seasons (April 3)

• MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl explains agonizing decision to cancel remainder of winter and spring seasons; ‘My heart absolutely breaks for kids in the class of 2020’ (April 3)

• MHSAA officially cancels spring and winter sports, putting an end to the 2019-20 athletic year (April 3)

• Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces closure of Michigan schools for remainder of 2019-20, stipulates K-12 sports are suspended ‘while state of emergency … is in effect’ (April 2)

• With Gov. Whitmer reportedly set to close Michigan schools for remainder of academic year, can cancellation of high school sports be far behind?  (March 30)

• ‘What now?’ and ‘What next?’: A look at how Michigan’s prep athletes are coping with the ‘pause’ of the postseason, and what it might theoretically take to ‘unpause’ (March 17)

• MHSAA extends halt of athletic activities to include practices, scrimmages until at least April 5(March 13)

• MHSAA puts postseason on pause due to concerns over COVID-19 (March 12)

• UPDATED: MHSAA postseasons impacted by coronavirus; games put on pause, postponed indefinitely (March 11)