Running laps and lifting weights: There’s light at the end of the COVID-19 shutdown tunnel for student athletes at Indiana Area School District, where the school board on a split vote Monday gave the go-ahead for what they called “pre-conditioning” for kids on the fall sports teams and extracurricular activities.
The approval governs voluntary workouts and other drills that may begin as early as Wednesday under pandemic control orders by Gov. Tom Wolf, but aren’t scheduled to begin until next week. Even then, student athletes, musicians, cheerleaders and the like will need to be coached on the safety standards before they can be coached on building up strength, stamina and skills for their fall seasons.
The board approved the start of drills on a 5 to 3 vote, with opposition based on the late presentation of the proposal as an addition to the planned agenda and the amount of time spent on revising the wording of the motion being put up for a vote.
“On the approval of the Academic/Extracurricular Committee, the IASD Athletic/Extra-curricular and Safety Plan be provisionally approved for the purpose of starting preseason activities, with coaches, other extracurricular positions and students receiving training on the plan prior to the start of any activity, as presented,” was the final language.
The plan concerns band, cheerleading, cross country, football, girls’ and boys’ soccer, girls’ tennis, volleyball and hockey.
Directors Tamie Blank, Thomas Harley, Terry Kerr, Tamara Leeper and Walter Schroth approved the plan; Barbara Barker, Cinda Brode and Ute Lowery dissented. Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro was absent.
The plan remains under development today, officials said.
Athletic Director Gregory Lezanic said each coach would be required to submit a detailed student safety plan to his office.
“A coach will not start (pre-conditioning) until they complete whatever training that we talk about tomorrow,” Lezanic said. “I will make myself available tomorrow and — June 30, July 1. But until there’s that mandatory meeting with at least me, there will not be a beginning of that activity.”
“Greg and I are meeting tomorrow morning to develop the template for specific information by all programs including conditioning,” high school Principal Wade McElheny told the board via a chat message.
The board met online, again using the Zoom app to bring directors, school administrators and district residents together — with as many as 38 individuals logged in as the meeting convened — and employed the technology to display text of the agenda items on viewers’ screens.
As debate on the pre-conditioning safety plan went on, the motion was edited on the fly to meet directors’ wishes.
That alone shook Brode’s confidence in the plan.
“It’s going too fast, it’s not complete, there is no definitive information,” Brode said. “This is being done at the last minute in a rushed fashion, and I don’t see it happening. Just based on the length of time that it took to get that amendment, and with all the wordsmithing and wrangling going on is evidence that the plan is not ready and I feel very strongly that we are making a mistake.”
“I don’t feel the document is ready yet,” Barker said. “So I can’t support it.”
Schroth underscored that the vote concerned voluntary activities and that a second plan would govern formal sports and after-school activities. That would take effect Aug, 17, when PIAA allows tryouts, team meetings and summer camps to begin, according to athletic office staffers Dan Antonacci and Darla Mathe.
Brode protested that enacting extracurricular plans before having an academic plan in place seemed to be a backward process.
Blank said athletic safety plans shouldn’t wait.
“If the kids don’t start preconditioning now, they are at greater risk of injuries later,” she said.
Leeper said she was comfortable with the limited exposure students would have in their pre-conditioning because activities such as running laps would be done outdoors.
But weightlifting would be done indoors in the fitness center, Brode countered.
“If the weight room is used there are cleaning, disinfecting and social distancing guidelines in place to protect student health,” McElheny said.
“Summer conditioning is voluntary,” Lezanic reminded the directors. “Parents will have the final say on their students’ attendance.”
Debate over the plan and related back-to-school business on the late addition to the agenda extended the session to more than 1 1/2 hours.
The directors unanimously agreed to the creation of a “COVID-19 Athletics/Extra-curricular Subcommittee.”
“This is a fluid situation,” Superintendent Michael Vuckovich said. “With a committee to monitor it, the better off we all will be. This would be to keep us all working together, to make sure we’re on the same page. Several minds are better than one.”
They cautiously acted on a proposed list of extra-duty, extra-pay assignments for the district and after brief discussion, agreed to table consideration of appointments for activities that are not imminent, such as yearbook and newspaper advisers, dramatic and musical performance directors, student government and class advisers.
The board agreed with Leeper’s warning that the district could be committed to pay for those after-school activities should the county experience a resurgence of coronavirus and the state government again order payment for canceled events.
The directors approved the list of coaches and assistants needed for fall sports, after being assured of their power to pro-rate the compensation should their seasons be shortened or cancelled.
• Brandon Overdorff, football head coach, $15,056
• Lisa Kinter, cross country head coach, $6,067
• Todd Myers, boys’ soccer head coach, $7,157
• Nicola Smith, girls’ soccer head coach, $5,368
• Matthew Reed, boys’ golf coach, $5,057
• Elmer Bland, girls’ golf coach, $5,057
• Phil Palko, girls’ tennis head coach, $6,067
• Dana Kundla, girls’ volleyball head coach, $6,067
• Becky Schurr, senior high cheerleaders fall coordinator, $2,572, and junior high cheerleaders fall coordinator, $1,596
• Jason Olear, senior high music marching/concert band, $8,056
• Zachery Karcher, junior high music marching band director, $2,090, and senior high music assistant band director, $3,590
• Scott Mossgrove, football assistant, $6,396
• Bill Waryck, football assistant, $6,396
• Mike Weaver, football assistant, $6,396
• Michael Boiano, football assistant, $6,396
• Jeff Duffee, football assistant, $6,396
• Pete Woytowish, football assistant, $6,396
• Don Hanni, football part-time assistant, $2,129
• J.D. Hilditch, football part-time assistant, $2,129
• Emily Risinger, cross country assistant, $1,824
• Ken Branan, cross country assistant, $2,431
• Jamie Branan, cross country assistant, $2,431
• Joe Cronan, boys’ soccer assistant, junior varsity, $3,602
• Matt Daymut, boys’ soccer assistant, junior high, $3,602
• Matt McKelvy, boys’ soccer assistant, junior high, $3,602
• Christina Butterworth, girls’ soccer assistant, junior high, $3,602
• Allison Ball, girls’ volleyball assistant, senior high, $2,299
• Sheri Wetzel, senior high cheerleaders fall assistant, $1,686
• Scott Kemerer, senior high music band front assistant, $3,251
• Craig Olear, senior high music band front assistant, $3,251
• Jackie Cupp, senior high music band front assistant, $3,251
• Jody Lewandowski, athletic director assistant, $8,391.
The board approved the list 5 to 3, with Barker, Blank and Brode opposed.
Schroth, the board president, opened the meeting by declaring that the district’s reopening plans are the directors’ top priority.
“One of this board’s more critical roles is to assure the health, safety and well-being of all the students, faculty and staff, as well as the greater community as a whole,” Schroth said. “Our intents as a district to return this fall to our traditional academic programming and extracurricular activities have been challenged by forces and events beyond control of the board, the district and the community, including ever-moving goal posts and limited response times.”
Schroth said the state delivered the rules for school reopening safety plans on June 10 and the district administration hammered out a detailed version for Indiana schools on June 24 for the board’s review. Fine-tuning the plan continued through the weekend, he said.
“A plan of this critical importance and one that is complicated by unknowns and outside forces beyond our control could not have been written and vetted in less than two weeks without sacrificing its fidelity and integrity,” he said, and he praised Vuckovich, the administrative team and board members for making “failure to reopen the schools … not an option.”
Schroth said many factors beyond the board’s control could derail the resumption of classes and sports.
“Even if Indiana County remains in the green through the 20-21 school year, any change by Gov. Wolf in the surrounding heavily WPIAL-laden counties to yellow or red could have a devastating impact on any given sport or activity.”
Vuckovich said the administration’s next task, developing and gaining state approval of a plan to reopen classrooms for traditional instruction in late August, also is a moving target.
“I want to reiterate that these are living plans, they are subject to change based on what happens across the commonwealth, with the governor and his cabinet, and with local health conditions,” Vuckovich said. “We’re moving forward to put plans in place to put the safety of our students at the forefront, but these are subject to change and we want to be up front about that.”
A motion on the agenda called for considering a school reopening plan but Harley, chairman of the Academic/Extracurricular Committee, said the plan should be held back for consideration at the next scheduled board meeting on July 13.
In other business, the board:
• Hired Zoey Gailey as an elementary teacher at a salary of $51,239; Julianne Bothell as an elementary teacher at a salary of $51,239; and Tara Maruca as an elementary teacher at a salary of $77,428; all effective Aug. 19.
“The committee had a difficult task,” Vuckovich said. “I’m proud of the work they did.”
• Hired Tracy Pecora as a certified school nurse at a salary of $71,428, effective Aug. 19.
• Approved a contract with Gregory Lezanic as athletic director for 2020-21 at a salary of $20,000. The athletic director position falls outside the labor agreement with Indiana Area Education Association, which sets teacher salaries and the stipends for most extra-duty, extra-pay assignments, and is not included in the Act 93 compensation and benefits plan for most other district administrators. The board voted 7 to 1; Barker declined to comment on her “no” vote.
• Unanimously approved a letter of agreement with the Community Guidance Center to operate the district’s Student Assistance Program for the coming years.
• Schroth closed the meeting by asking the directors for suggestions or recommendations on a return to in-person board meetings for the first time since early March.