Clay becomes final area school district to announce dates when high school athletes can return

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Clay and Flagler counties have joined the remainder of the area’s 11 school districts in announcing plans to bring high school athletes back to campus in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clay County announced on Wednesday afternoon that it would allow athletes to begin returning to campus on June 15. Flagler announced its plans to bring athletes back to school for workouts on June 22 on Monday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, all 11 districts in the region had put plans in place to bring athletes back to schools.

Clay’s announcement allows for a June 15-20 acclimation period of outdoor conditioning and a move to indoor facilities from June 22 to July 3. Phases 3 and 4 of reintroducing athletes to scrimmages and, ultimately, competition, will come at dates to be determined.

“This plan was constructed by a task force composed of district and school-based staff with backgrounds in the associated areas. The process included a comprehensive review of other state’s plans, the plans implemented by youth sports organizations that have already returned and the plan communicated by the National Federation of High Schools,” the district said on social media.

ORIGINAL STORY BELOW

Summer and youth sports camps are off and running but returning to sports for high school athletes remains a work in progress in several area school districts.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on May 22 that youth sports and camps were permitted to reopen and activity in parks and at select schools had picked up since that span. But high school sports are another slice of the pie and the return has been slow going due to safety precautions.

As of Thursday, June 4, only five of the 11 districts in the Northeast Florida region had reopened on a limited basis for conditioning for athletes following Duval County’s morning announcement that laid out plans to resume.

Bradford, Nassau, Putnam and Union counties all opened facilities this week. Baker and St. Johns counties are planning June 15 returns for athletes. Alachua is reopening for conditioning on June 8. Columbia County hopes to have plans in place for a June 15 return, said Principal Thomas Hosford of Columbia High in Lake City.

Clay and Flagler counties had not announced reopening schedules, but plans were in the works. Duval County announced its reopening plan Thursday morning, saying it would allow outdoor conditioning beginning June 15. Phase 2 is expected to begin June 29 and include weightlifting. Actual practices would resume July 13 in Duval.

“Now knowing that it’s the governor’s expectation that football go on next year, we need to take appropriate steps to ensure students are physically ready,” said Duval County superintendent Diana Greene. “We are only a week behind our normal training schedule. Our partnership with the JSMP will help us make sure we do this as safely as possible for students and staff.”

The Georgia High School Association announced that its high schools could return to facilities June 8 if plans were in place from individual districts that outlined safety precautions to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

The Florida High School Athletic Association has been silent on any substantive information regarding a return to campus. Numerous area coaches have expressed frustration in that lack of communication. The FHSAA has largely deferred reopening plans to local districts.

“We need to be as safe as possible, follow all the CDC guidelines. I think if we get back toward the middle of June [like several other area districts] we’ll be in great shape,” First Coast football coach and Athletic Director Marty Lee said on Wednesday afternon. “Get the kids acclimated to conditioning and take all the safety precautions. I do believe Duval County will have a good plan. My biggest question is, are we going to start the [fall practice] season on July 27?”

July 27 is the official start date for football practice in Florida. Preseason games are Aug. 14.

How do the mid-June reintroduction of athletes to high school campuses look in the big picture? Schools have loaded up on safety precautions and been bombarded with literature on the best and safest ways to

Sherree Alvarez with the Bradford County School District said in an email that progress in returning has been slow but positive.

“So far, the reopening has gone well. Parents seem more confident in sending their students knowing these are the safeguards in place and our numbers increased from 50 on Monday to 70 on Tuesday,” she said.

“This is also giving us the opportunity to identify the logistical challenges that may be associated with daily wide-spread screening and enhanced sanitation and hygiene procedures. We also hope the protocols will teach our students to be more personally aware of social distancing and habitually washing hands/sanitizing surfaces.”

This week, Iowa high school athletes became the first in the country to have athletes return to practice, according to USA Today. Baseball and softball practice for summer high school sports, a rarity in the prep landscape, resumed Monday in Iowa.

Area school districts open for high school athletics

DistrictOpen for athletic conditioningDate opened/opening
AlachuaNoJune 8
BakerNoJune 15
BradfordYesJune 1
ClayNoJune 15
ColumbiaNoBy June 15
DuvalYesJune 15
FlaglerNoJune 22
NassauYesJune 1
PutnamYesJune 11
St. JohnsNoJune 15
UnionYesJune 1

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