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Pospisil: Will OPS allow fall sports? Health and well-being aren't only things to consider
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Pospisil: Will OPS allow fall sports? Health and well-being aren't only things to consider

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Litigation.

There, I said it.

Schools and colleges preach health and well-being as the root of reopening policies amid the pandemic, but those aren’t the only concerns. Fear of lawsuits also impacts decisions.

And Omaha Public Schools’ pending decision on high school sports will create litigation, but maybe not for the reason you think.

Parents of athletes are ready to sue if OPS doesn’t have sports. That means the district could be in court more for that than if it allows sports and someone gets sick from an outbreak traceable to extracurricular activities.

Why?

Athletic and activity participation is not mandatory. Parents can choose, based on their family’s risk factors, whether to have their children involved. But if fall sports are taken away in one school district through no fault of the student-athlete, who isn’t immediately eligible elsewhere per Nebraska School Activities Association rules, what is the recourse?

You know the answer: an attorney.

Virus outbreaks are certain in classrooms, even after treatments and a vaccine are found. Full coverage can’t come that fast.

A recent CBS News poll showed 70% of Americans would either wait to see what happens when others got the vaccine or never get one. Only half the country gets flu shots annually, according to the CDC. 

My viewpoint is multifaceted.

I’m 58, pushing into a higher-risk category for complications from the virus. We have 10-year-old twin sons. My in-laws are in their 70s. To lessen their exposure risk so the twins can visit, we’ve limited our family activities. Come Aug. 18, when the boys go back to classroom learning — masks on — we’ll have to assess the best way to keep seeing the grandparents while the kids get the benefits of being with peers and teachers.

Risk assessment, risk management.

I’m also a vested stakeholder in schools, especially OPS, beyond having school-age kids.

Including my wife’s side, our relatives have been educators since 1900. My involvement includes overseeing my high school alumni association (Omaha Benson) and a foundation that awards several scholarships annually to Omaha Central graduates. My job involves schools. Education runs deep in how I think.

Many of the points the head of the national high school association, Karissa Niehoff, made last week on a conference call were valid regarding transfers. That was a subject I raised, and one she wanted to avoid. “Have we just run out of time?” she said, only half-joking. I think.

But one of her strongest feelings, not allowing transfers because students could bring the virus with them, doesn’t hold water here in a Learning Community with open-enrollment rules. There are kids already going from Bennington to Central or from North High to Bellevue. The mobility argument here is moot.

One side of me wants the NSAA to maintain its transfer standards, lest it opens a Pandora’s box that never gets closed. See the State Department of Education’s open-enrollment rules, which were designed for academic not athletic transfers, that have been flouted for 30 years.

The other side is if OPS shuts down activities independently of a countywide mandate, its students will have been caught off-guard at the 11th hour. It’s not their fault. Is it fair they can’t transfer to participate?

The NSAA board will meet Monday morning to shore up statewide opening of fall sports as scheduled on Aug. 10. Transfers are on the agenda. Will it know by then what the OPS plans are? Are there plans from other Metro Conference and/or Class A school superintendents for Class A-only opening needs? If so, has OPS been a part of those or is it acting on its own?

 While starting activities Aug. 10 — if the rest of Class A does — would be optimal, I could see OPS wanting to hold off on sports while gauging what’s happening with the virus in classrooms, which open Aug. 11.

Who knows how long in-person learning will continue? If students and teachers wear masks, the chances improve.

A Sept. 1 start to sports in OPS wouldn’t be the worst. Nor would playing an internal schedule among the seven schools in football, volleyball and softball. But if that’s the plan, then OPS as a member of the NSAA owes it to that institution to declare its intentions sooner than later.

This week will tell us a lot.


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Reporter - High school sports

Stu is The World-Herald's lead writer for high school sports and for golf. Follow him on Twitter @stuOWH. Phone: 402-444-1041.

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