A look into the sport quarantine rules and athletes’ decisions to participate in Online Academy or all-in learning.
BY CALLIA PETERSON, ’22 AND LUKE ERIKSEN, ’22.
When senior Paris Alexander arrives at school each learning, families were informed that if their child was exposed morning, she watches as her sister gets out of the to COVID-19 in the classroom, they would still be required to car and enters the UAHS doors, then pulls away attend school, but must quarantine from all sports practices and from the school and heads home to her computer, through which games due to the close-contact nature of the extra-curricular. she completes her online coursework before heading to lacrosse This rule has since changed, but was a prominent factor in practice.
After the district announced that students would be returning to school five days a week on March 1, dozens of students traded in-person learning for the Online Academy (OA)––particularly spring athletes.
For many of these spring athletes, often seniors gearing up for their final high school season, their reason to transition to the fully online option was rooted in a new quarantine rule for athletes.
When the district announced the school would switch to all-in athletes’ decisions to switch to OA in March, which many remain unable to switch back from.
Alexander lowered her chances of being exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom by staying home, even while her sister attends school in person.
“I had already missed my whole junior year due to COVID-19,” Alexander said. “I just didn’t want to miss any more games than I did last year.”
THE EVOLUTION OF QUARANTINE
With tennis, lacrosse, volleyball, track, water polo, baseball, softball and crew seasons underway, there are hundreds of athletes at risk of being quarantined.
The decisions about COVID-19 restrictions for athletes are made by Gina Rancitelli. Rancitelli serves as the UAHS COVID Coordinator.
“We have to trust the experts, and the experts are Gina and the health department in Ohio. They have our best interests in mind,” assistant athletic director Spencer Smith said. “She keeps track and organizes everything so it’s up to date. It gets very confusing, but she’s on top of it.”
“It can be kind of challenging to monitor all these kids in a sport, but with the help of the parents and other students, [I am] able to find the kids that need to be put in quarantine,” Rancitelli said.
In order to track down everyone who has been exposed to a positive case, Rancitelli conducts extensive contract tracing. When Rancitelli learns an athlete has tested positive, she reaches out to their teachers for seating charts, talks to coaches and the athletic director for information about how the student may have been exposed at practices or games and contacts the parent to receive more detailed information about the exposure. Furthermore, Rancitelli must determine who was within 3 feet of the infected athlete, and she determines which students need to quarantine due to exposure.
As new data and research about COVID-19 and exposures in schools is revealed, public health officials determine new guidelines for students. These guidelines determine if a student must be quarantined, the length of time and what the student is able to do during quarantine (e.g. whether they can still attendTwo Upper Arlington softball players meet during a game. The players must wear masks when not playing. school or athletics under a modified quarantine).
“The reality is that quarantine guidance from public health officials has changed several times since the fall,” said Superintendent Paul Imhoff in a video on the Upper Arlington Schools YouTube Channel on March 31.
When the district first announced students would be returning to school
five days a week in late February, the quarantine guidelines for athletes led many to switch to fully remote learning in the Online Academy.
These initial quarantine guidelines, which were announced by Superintendent Paul Imhoff in a webinar on Feb. 22, were if a student was exposed to COVID-19 within 6 feet in the classroom, they would still be able to attend school, but must quarantine from everything outside of
the school day, including sports. This was referred to as a “modified quarantine” by Franklin County Public Health.
“If you were near someone who tested positive and that happened within a classroom, you are on quarantine for everything outside of the school day but you are allowed to continue to come to school only during that quarantine period,” Imhoff said. “And if you are an athlete, the current guidance is that you would be quarantined for 14 days [from your sport].”
It was then announced on Feb. 24 that the modified quarantine, where students may still attend school even if they were exposed in the classroom but not activities outside of school, would only apply to all students that were 3 to 6 feet from a positive case in a classroom environment. Then, anyone who was less than 3 feet would need to stay home from school and all activities outside of school.
After this guidance was announced in early March, 150 students switched from in-person learning to the Online Academy. Many of those students were athletes who did not want to be exposed in the classroom and then be required to continue to come to school but quarantine from their sport.
When students returned from spring break, and the district had already been in the all-in learning model for a couple of weeks, the quarantine guidelines changed once again. Now any students placed in a modified quarantine may not only continue attending school, but also organized athletics and extracurricular activities during their quarantine period.
Under the latest guidance, students in a regular, “non modified” quarantine must quarantine from school, athletics and activities for ten days or for seven days if they have a negative result from a test taken on day five or later.
Imhoff advised in a video detailing the new guidance that “any close contacts should still continue monitoring their symptoms for 14 days after exposure.
“We continue to meet with public health officials and our Medical Advisory Team to learn about the most up to date information, and we will adopt any updates and guidance from public health,” Imhoff said.
THE BIG DECISION
Three weeks prior to the changes in quarantine guidance allowing athletes to continue to attend their sport even if
a classmate tested positive, athletes had to decide if they would attend all-in learning starting on March 1 or switch to OA. This forced them to choose between seeing friends at school with the risk of being quarantined from their sport or to switch to OA and not be exposed to any positive cases at school.
Varsity baseball player and junior Kuyper Lashutka decided to transition to a reduced in-person schedule by taking some classes over Zoom and through OA so that he was less likely to have to quarantine from athletics. Lashutka takes IB Business over Zoom, attends school for IB Sports Science and Designing with Materials while completing the rest of his classes through Edgenuity, the OA platform.
“I’ve been playing youth baseball with a few of these guys since I was eight or nine so it’s awesome that I can do it, but going online sucks because I have my school friends, my baseball friends and my football friends, and I don’t see [all of] my school friends anymore.”
When Lashutka does come into school for a couple classes each day, some of his teachers allow him to sit near other athletes.
“In my Designing with Materials class I sit with a lacrosse kid, and then a football kid and then some kid who doesn’t play sports. Then in IB Sports, I sit with two football kids anda baseball kid,” he said. “It’s pretty controlled, and I know all of them so it’s not like I don’t know what they’re doing on the weekends. I understand what’s going on with them and they are cautious about it because they play sports, too.”
Although he knows some of the people in his classes, he said he misses seeing his friend group.
“I only go in for two classes, but it’s still pretty tough on me to see everyone in my friend group is having lunch together, and they’re all having the time of their lives and they’re all hanging out in school and stuff, while we’re all sitting at home doing nothing,” Lashutka said.
Varsity softball player and junior Caroline Langmeyer decided to stay in school because she feels more productive at school.
The girl’s lacrosse team stands for the National Anthem at the start of their game.
“I just don’t think I am as productive at home, so I really wanted to stay. Especially because I get to see more people as well,” Langmeyer said.
Although Langmeyer is in school full time, most of her teachers did not give her an isolated desk.
“Some classes I’m surrounded by seven people so if one of them got it, I’d have to quarantine [under the initial guidance]. Only in one of my classes my teachers said, ‘If you’re an athlete you can sit in these desks,’ but most of my teachers said they can’t give preference,” Langmeyer said.
Last year spring sports were canceled, and seniors like Alexander found it essential to finish their high school athletic careers with decreased risk of quarantines.
“The seniors decided to do online academy just because [we] had already missed [our] whole junior year due to COVID-19,” she said. “It would just be really unfortunate if one person in my class—say it’s someone who I don’t even talk to—were to get COVID-19, and I would have to sit out for two weeks from my season,” Alexander said.
Missing the social aspect of school wasn’t worth it for senior track captain Coleman Kegler.
“I wanted to come into school and see the people I haven’t been able to see in a while. Plus this might be the last chance I have to be around my classmates before we go off to college,” Kegler said.
Luckily for Kegler, the quarantine rules changed two weeks after he made his decision, so athletes do not have to quarantine because of a positive test in the classroom.
“I was not very happy about the initial rules. They have been changed, though, so that was big for the people who chose to stay in school,” Kegler said.
Lashutka said he was frustrated when the quarantine rules changed, because a lot of his teammates chose to switch to OA.
“Like two weeks after [we switched], the state came out with a rule that you don’t have to quarantine anymore, so we’re all kind of mad about it because we went online for [nothing], and couldn’t go back,” he said.
However, Lashutka added that he thought he made the right decision.
“I know personally after having five games and having a blast playing baseball, if I would’ve had two weeks shut down, I would have felt miserable and so would everyone else. The fact that we’re all so close knit, and we’re all together all the time, if one of us would get it then all of us would probably get it and we’d have literally two or three weeks gone and that’s a majority of our season,” he said. “It’s very hard to do, but we all made it our choice, and we’re sticking to it because it’s what is best for us and hopefully our team in the future.”
SAFE ON THE FIELD
Even for the athletes who switched to OA, if a teammate were to test positive, there is still a risk of being a close contact during practice or games. A whole team shutting down could be detrimental to the season.
“Athletes definitely are more at risk just because of the contact that they have with one another but again it all comes down to mitigation practices and trying to social distance and mask as much as possible,” Rancitelli said.
In the winter, when practices and games are usually held inside and due to the close-contact nature of the sports, Rancitelli had to quarantine both the boys and girls basketball teams and the wrestling team.
“You are close to getting in somebody’s face with wrestling and with trying to play basketball and dribbling and getting around everybody, so the guidelines stated [for] especially those two sports, it didn’t matter the amount of time that you were with somebody. It’s considered a close contact sport so everybody had to do quarantine, so that was a lot [and] very busy,” Rancitelli said.
Spring sports teams have been doing everything they can to prevent a team shutdown, including following precautions at practice.
“We stay 6 feet apart [at] our water breaks, [and] all of our bags are 6 feet apart. In line drills we are 6 feet apart from each other,” Alexander said.
Alexander’s teammates also wear masks at practice. She said the only exceptions are during hard runs, an intense drill or during games in which some girls pull it down if they are in a position that runs often.
Sports like baseball and softball have a much easier time distancing themselves since players are naturally spread out in the field. They wear masks in the dugout and if they are at bases where they cannot distance from other players.
The dugout is the only place where transmission could likely occur during softball games as well.
“We practically always wear our masks. We try to stay 6 feet apart in the dugout. Some of us are on the fence, some are on the bench. There are Xs where we can sit 6 feet apart,” Langmeyer said.
The most challenging part for the baseball team is not being able to celebrate wins the same way.
“You can’t celebrate outside the dugout, and normally when someone scores a run everyone goes to the dugout and greets them, but you can’t do that now which is awful because we’re a pretty loud group, and we can’t get all hyped up when someone scores a run.”
The spring sports that take place outdoors have had better luck with limiting the spread and preventing team-wide quarantines than the winter sports that practiced indoors.
“Being able to be outside really does help limit the spread so while I saw a lot of cases, several of them being in a sport, especially in the winter time, luckily I am not seeing as much of that now, so that’s where we are at with that,” Rancitelli said.
When athletes test positive, Rancitelli must get official clearance from a medical provider to make sure the athlete is able to return to their sport safely. She emphasized the seriousness of the virus for athletes and warned of the long term effects.
“It’s really important for families to understand that we don’t know all the long-term health effects that can happen with a student or an adult with COVID-19. We just don’t know how it can affect the heart or other vital organs. It needs to be taken really seriously when a student does test positive,” she said.
Smith showed his appreciation for Rancitelli and the health department and their efforts to keep students safe.
“She’s really good at her job. She has a tough job. We appreciate all the work she has done. She [gets] a rave review from us,” Smith said.
In a family update on April 9, Imhoff announced that positive cases and quarantines are leveling off in the district, but that community members must remain cautious as numbers rise on the county and state level.
“Our Medical Advisory Team stresses that we still need to remain vigilant with all of the health and safety precautions during the school day and outside of our homes, especially masking,” he said. “These precautions will help us slow the spread in our community and reduce the number of quarantines and successfully keep our students in school all day, every day.”