In a special session on Monday, the South Seneca Board of Education met after public outcry over the outcome of a separate meeting in mid-September.
That one opted the district out of Section V fall sports. This included soccer, golf, and cross country. The unanimous decision by the Board of Education in that session, who voted 7-0 to not participate in the 2020 fall sports season, was met with intense criticism from parents and the community-at-large.
Superintendent Stephen Zielinski took responsibility for the way the decision landed in the community. “I understand that it felt like the decision came out of nowhere,” he explained ahead of the session. “That part is on me. But the Board is making decisions with the health and safety of students, faculty, and the community in mind.”
While South Seneca is one of the smallest districts in Section V, it was also one of the only to not participate in fall sports. There were approximately 70 parents and community members in attendance and not one spoke out against playing sports. However, even as many of the parents and students in attendance felt as though the answer was simple—the Board didn’t agree.
After listening to extensive feedback from parties involved, only two sports were given the green light to resume. Golf and cross country were allowed to resume by a 6-1 vote. Soccer was not even considered, and the board opted to approve a new, intramural program—as an alternative to traditional competitive soccer.
“There would have been challenges associated with interscholastic soccer,” Zielinski said after the meeting. The biggest challenge, which was briefly considered by the Board of Education, would be the prospect of finding games for the boys and girls soccer teams. One proposal that received some internal discussion among board members was to petition Section IV, since Section V said there would be little opportunity for starting late. Section IV is doing a condensed athletic calendar, and some felt like that would provide an opportunity for students to play soccer—even though the season started more than seven days ago.
Like many communities, it was clear that there was a divide between officials with the school district and some parents. Multiple speakers addressed the board about “returning to normalcy” and the impact decisions like canceling any given sports season has on them. “We’re not just talking about seniors and their last opportunity to play,” one parent said, addressing the board at a particularly contentious moment. “We’re talking about their mental health and feeling like there’s an end in sight.”
“My worst fear is that one person comes down with the virus and everything shuts down,” another parent said to the Board, tapping into a shared feeling in the room. Her comment, like many others that opposed extensive restrictions on normal school activity prompted applause. However, while many board members sat quietly waiting for parents like this to stop speaking, Patricia Richardson quickly interjected. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. That absolutely can happen,” she said.?
Several school districts in the region have been closed on a temporary or longer-term basis due to positive tests. That answer wasn’t sufficient for clearly frustrated community members, who see low numbers of confirmed virus—and intense restriction on daily life.
For many parents in attendance, the entire night felt like another disadvantage living in the small community that is South Seneca. “Our kids lack enough being in Southern Seneca County. Please don’t make this about finances or a virus that is under control here,” one of the last speakers of the night concluded. “We need basketball. We need winter sports. We need to be trying now so that we can do it this winter for our kids.”
So while the decision of playing or not playing rested on the board, and was merely connected to three sports—the community was feeling out the district on their willingness to do more intense sports—like basketball and wrestling—down the road.