CANTON — Eleven St. Lawrence County lawmakers on Monday night passed a resolution appealing to the Northern Athletic Conference and St. Lawrence County school districts to “let them play.”
The resolution, brought forward during the county Board of Legislators’ Services Committee meeting, was staunchly opposed by four legislators, who argued such an appeal to autonomous school and athletic bodies was not an appropriate action for the county governing body.
“I think we’re crossing a line here,” said Margaret G. Haggard, D-Potsdam. “I get it. I know about the mental health impact, but at the same time, I think we’re getting out of our lane and we need to stay in our lane.”
The county-level appeal follows a mid-day protest in Canton and a handful of constituents attending the full county Board of Legislators meeting last week, all calling on the Northern Athletic Conference, or Section 10, to permit high-risk winter sports seasons.
The state Department of Health on Jan. 22 issued updated COVID-19 guidance for high-risk winter sports, including ice hockey, wrestling, basketball and volleyball. High-risk sports practices and competitions were officially permitted Feb. 1, as long as local health officials approved participation.
The St. Lawrence County Public Health Department responded to the updated state guidance last week, issuing its own protocol recommendations should school districts decide to resume high-risk sports.
On Jan. 29, school officials in Section 10, comprised of 24 school districts in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, announced high-risk sports practices and competitions would continue to be paused. The Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES and St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES cited the ongoing health crisis and jointly stated: “due to concerns about logistics necessary to make these programs safe and successful, Section 10 school districts are not ready to commence high-risk winter sports.”
But according to a Section 10 announcement Friday, high-risk winter sports teams may be able to practice or compete “as early as mid-to-late February.” Detailed safety plans for school districts, per public health directives in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, must be in place before Section 10 will greenlight participation in seasons.
School districts are now working to develop the necessary plans.
“I think the benefits far outweigh the risks,” Harry A. Smithers, R-Gouverneur, said of allowing high-risk winter seasons. “So for me, it’s worth it.”
Mrs. Haggard, along with David W. Forsythe, R-Lisbon; John H. Burke, R-Norfolk; and Suzanne M. Fiacco, D-Norwood; opposed the resolution.
“I have a hard time with this, and I feel like this is my job as a school board member and not as a county legislator,” said Ms. Fiacco, who also serves on the board of education for Norwood-Norfolk Central School District. “These kids are not in school five days a week, but you want them to participate in sports?”