SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The CDC is issuing new guidance when it comes to extra-curricular in schools, suggesting many be canceled or held virtually with the spike in COVID cases. However, some disagree, saying those are the areas taking the most precautions.
According to the CDC, those considered “high risk” activities include band, choir, and sports like football and wrestling. Two years into navigating hurdles of the pandemic, some school programs like band say staying together in-person is best for students.
“When we were virtual-only, it was really difficult, it was really hard to teach a physical skill online,” said Zeb Bellon, director of bands at Santa Fe High School. “Band is an ensemble, so when the students are alone in their rooms, they’re not really getting band. I can help them individually with their instruments but the point is for them to all play together and to make music together as a group.”
According to new guidelines by the CDC, that could change if implemented here in New Mexico. As the state continues to hit new records for daily case counts, the CDC recommends in areas of high transmission, going virtual for “higher risk” activities like band and choir or canceling them altogether. However, some say that’s unrealistic.
“We do have science related to music and instrument playing. It’s there,” said Bellon. “It was coordinated between a lot of different schools and universities to make sure that we could produce a safe experience for our students.”
Santa Fe Public Schools says they’ve taken all precautions. Some of those include spacing students out in large music rooms, as well as ordering specialized PPE for musicians.
“We have purchased specific masks for choir and for band and bell covers and everything specific to the instruments,” said April Pickrell, music education coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools. “We’re taking really big steps to make sure students are safe. I think if we take that into consideration and if we’re all following the rules and we’re all making sure the kids are safe, I don’t think that taking away band and sports and choir is a good idea.”
The CDC also issued guidelines for higher-contact sports like football and wrestling — which can’t go virtual. The New Mexico Activities Association says while these new guidelines are concerning, they trust the state’s leaders to make the right decisions.
“We’ve been mask-wearing in indoor sports. When the CDC sends out these guidelines, nationally, I’d say we’re one of only maybe three states that are wearing masks when we’re wrestling or we’re wearing masks in basketball,” said Sally Marquez, executive director of the NMAA. “I think our state is a little bit different and we’ve been following very strong COVID-safe practices from the beginning.”
Directors also cite many other areas in school where kids can contract COVID like crowded stairwells and the lunchroom. With all of this in mind and the impact of the arts and athletics, school leaders hope students’ mental well-being will also be considered.
“Sports and band and choir and speech and debate or whatever want to call, these are the reasons kids come to school in many cases,” said Bellon. “That’s why they’re there. It’s the motivating factor that gets them to school, it helps them interact with other students.”
As for activities considered a low or intermediate risk — like golf, diving, baseball and cross country — the CDC recommends COVID screening at least once a week. So far, the state’s Public Education Department has not said if it will adopt the CDC’s new guidelines for extra-curricular.