Public administrators call for the return of extracurricular activities

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Greater Essex County District School Board administrators are urging the local health unit to allow extracurricular activities, including football, for students.

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Administrator Al Halberstadt said that, along with other administrators, parents, coaches and students “are upset to take this away from children.”

Halberstadt introduced the original motion at a board meeting on Tuesday which was passed with an amendment that said “when deemed safe by the public health unit.”

As a new school year began in September, the health unit recommended postponing extracurricular activities until October.

Seeing a high number of COVID-19 cases and high positivity rates in the region, the health unit has maintained its position this week that all extracurriculars should be kept on hold.

Parents, coaches and students opposed to the local health unit's recommended postponement of extracurricular activities protest outside the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit on Ouellette Avenue on Thursday, September 9, 2021.
Parents, coaches and students opposed to the local health unit’s recommended postponement of extracurricular activities, demonstrate outside the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit on Ouellette Avenue on Thursday, September 9, 2021. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Nicole Dupuis, CEO of Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, appeared before the virtual board meeting to explain the health unit’s position and Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr Shanker Nesathurai again addressed the question Wednesday.

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“The burden of COVID-19 on school-aged youth is greater this year than last year,” Nesathurai said. “We continue to have discussions with the school board, we meet with the school board representatives and we evaluate the data. Based on the data, we will try to make the best possible recommendations for the community, and especially for schools and young people who attend schools.

Nesathurai also said “The most important thing is to keep schools open for instruction. It’s more important, in my mind, and I think the minds of most parents, than anything else.

Allowing students to participate in clubs and sports is to mix cohorts, which increases exposure.

“Every time we increase human-to-human interactions, with COVID, we increase the risk of transmission,” Nesathurai said.

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“Schools are at particularly high risk because a large portion of the school population is currently not eligible for vaccines. “

Halberstadt pointed to “inequity” in a community where children play football, hockey and other sports outside of school.

“It’s OK for travel gamers and their parents who have the money to pay for it,” Halberstadt said. “For many children, especially in the central area, they have no money and their only outlet is sports in high school. “

He noted that other school boards in the province, including southwestern Ontario, allow extracurricular activities.

A Kingsville District High School leadership class on Wednesday sent an open letter to Dupuis, Nesathurai and the media asking the health unit to reconsider its decision.

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“The sense of community in our schools and the mental health of the students were greatly affected by your decision,” the letter read. “As students who understand the value of these activities and the full impact of your decision, we respectfully ask you to reconsider this ‘all or nothing’ position. “

The letter offered suggestions for improving safety, such as allowing low-risk clubs to meet, allowing outdoor sports and low-contact sports, offering quick tests and league bubbles.

  1. General Amherst's Brynlee Ammonite, left, and Abby Orchard celebrate a point against Widdifield High School at the OFSAA Girls AA Volleyball Championship on March 11, 2020. It was the last local side event before the COVID-pandemic- 19.

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  2. Parents, coaches and students opposed to the local health unit's recommended postponement of extracurricular activities, demonstrate outside the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit on Ouellette Avenue on Thursday, September 9, 2021.

    Health service upholds decision to delay extracurricular activities

  3. Nicole Dupuis, CEO of Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, speaks in this file photo from December 19, 2019.

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Officials from the local health unit and school boards met on Wednesday and Halberstadt understood they were going to discuss extracurricular activities.

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The health unit sent out a statement in response to a media request regarding the meetings.

“WECHU continues to work closely with our local school boards to determine how extracurricular activities can be safely reintroduced into the school setting,” the statement said. “It is critically important that measures are put in place to protect student safety and maintain the top priority of keeping students in school for in-person learning.

The letter from Kingsville leadership students mentioned a planned walkout by students Thursday that was promoted by social media. The Kingsville group said they were not in favor of a walkout.

“However, we fear that the walkout will be an inevitable result if this decision is not reconsidered,” they said.

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