Reversing Course, Haverhill Allows Winter Sports, Also Sends K-5 Pupils Back to Class Earlier

Haverhill School Committee member Richard J. Rosa. (WHAV News file photograph.)

There will be school sports in Haverhill this winter and students in grades K-5 will be going back to school two weeks earlier than originally planned.

The Haverhill School Committee met in a special session Tuesday night to reconsider its decision last Thursday to ban all winter sports due to a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.  Vice Chairman Richard J. Rosa called for the meeting after receiving emails from parents who thought the decision was too hasty.

“By postponing the season until Jan. 14, with the requirement that there has to be 10 days’ practice before the start of the season, we essentially eliminated the season for most of these sports. So, I thought it was worth having a conversation about some of these specifics,” he explained.

Athletics Director Thomas O’Brien told the Committee, for many students, sports plays a huge role in their lives. Because of this, he noted. the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs all high school sports, has introduced a number of modifications to make sporting events as safe as possible. He outlined some of them.

“First, masks at all times. No locker rooms—our locker room facilities are closed, hand sanitizing, sanitizing wipes, no handshakes, fist bumps, any contact like that whatsoever at any time,” he said.

He added, of the five winter sports, three of them—swimming, skiing and gymnastics—are considered to be low risk. The other two—hockey and basketball—fall into the high-risk category.

Committee members discussed the pros and cons but, in the end, voted unanimously to allow the three low-risk sports, while voting 6-1 to allow basketball and hockey with Mayor James J. Fiorentini as the only no vote. Both decisions came with a caveat, introduced by Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti, that a contract listing all protocols and expectations would need to be signed by the students and their parents before they could play.

The Committee also agreed to allow other school sanctioned clubs and activities to take place under the same conditions.

Additionally, the Committee revisited its decision last week to have students in grades K-5 return to the hybrid model of in-school education on Jan.19. Some members said waiting longer would be detrimental to learning. Among those concerned was Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr.

“I’m worried, quite frankly, that they’re going to get so far behind that we’re just not going to be able to catch them up. So, I would be okay with a return to school for the K-5 Jan. 4,” said Wood.

The Committee agreed, voting 5-2, for the earlier return with Committee members Toni Sapienza-Donais and Maura L. Ryan-Ciardiello opposed.

Following the vote, Anthony Parolisi, president of the Haverhill Education Association, contacted WHAV, bemoaning that decision saying it would not leave enough time after the holidays to know if a student had become infected with the coronavirus. He said the decision pointed to a lack of concern by the School Committee for the safety of the students and teachers.

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