Districts Asked to Follow Mask Rules After Opposing Team Members Nearly Asked to Leave

By Jeremy Coumbes on February 20, 2021 at 11:56am

The Jacksonville School District 117 Superintendent is asking fellow districts to maintain compliance with the state’s youth sports mask requirements.

Superintendent Steve Ptacek told the Board of Education during the regular meeting Wednesday that he intended to send communication to other districts and the IHSA requesting compliance and informing them District 117 has a no-tolerance policy for those who do not follow COVID-19 mitigation protocols.

He says the issue of visiting teams not following the IHSA mask guidelines has become more of a problem in recent weeks, capped by an occurrence at a boys basketball game at The Bowl last week.

We did have a game last week that, I guess you could just look up who we played, so it was against S.H.G. and they- ..they were very resistant to wearing masks in our buildings. J.V. players were watching the varsity game in the stands and we had to go up multiple times and tell them to put their masks on. It got to the point that we were talking about asking them to leave, and if they had one bus in don’t know what was going to happen.

But I then appealed to all the school leaders we play against to have them talk with their coaches to then for their coaches to talk to their players to say it’s not an option in our buildings. I can’t ask my pre-k students to have masks on all day, which they are doing. That same night I was asking some of our parents that were wearing them not fully to say we’ve got to set a good example. Here we wear them fully.

I can’t ask our people to follow our protocols and then allow individuals who are visiting us not to.”

Ptacek says he sent the communication as a way to give other superintendents a heads up. He says he hopes the rest of the year will go very smoothly. He says he has already received some replies to his communication, including the interim superintendent at University High who comes to town to face JHS tonight.

Ptacek says University High gave a very supportive response citing that they have also have the same protocols for mask-wearing by both teams and spectators. Ptacek says the JHS team received commendation following a recent out-of-town trip for a game.

The referee from the Quincy game sent us an email and commended how supportive our students were of the masks and how they wore them all and he didn’t have to correct our team.

I think that gets back to the fact that our school is one of the schools that has been in person all year long. Our students are used to masks. Now Quincy has been also, so I want to commend Quincy for being one of the other school districts that has been in person all year long. And he didn’t say that their team wasn’t following it, he might have commended their team also.

But it’s obviously a ref that has been doing a lot of games and I could sense from that he’s had some difficulty in some of the other games.”

Ptacek says he is very proud of the JHS team from the players to the coaches and administration of their commitment to the masks.

He says as it stands right now, personal opinion on mask-wearing is not the issue. The issue at heart is the possible ramifications for those who do not follow the guidelines.

One reason is, from the health reason we are supposed to be doing that. Two, for consistency in the expectations we are having on our own students and visitors. We’ve got to be consistent. But the last reason is a legal liability.

We open up our exposure to legal claims if we are not following protocols. Our insurance company has been very clear with us that we can have coverage as long as we are going to be in a defense-able position that we are following IDPH guidelines and protocols. So people’s personal feelings about masks are absolutely irrelevant in all of our dialogue.”

Ptacek says one only has to look at the NFHS internet streaming service that is showing games from around the state to see a multitude of schools that are not following protocols and opening themselves up to potential liability.

Ptacek says if the IHSA and IDPH get together tomorrow and decide that masks are no longer needed, then the District’s protocols will change. But until then, teams and spectators coming into District 117 buildings will be expected to wear a facial covering or will be asked to leave.