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Activities vs. pandemic?

Marshall School Board weighs facility rental question

MARSHALL — Feelings were strong on both sides of the issue, Marshall School Board members said. Youth sports and activities are important for many Marshall area community members, but at the same time, indoor gatherings and activities come with risks of spreading COVID-19.

As they talked over the question of whether to rent out school facilities for winter activities, school board members said they thought there would need to be rules in place to help protect students. However, they didn’t know what those rules should be.

“We don’t want to put our students in jeopardy,” said board chairman Jeff Chapman. Chapman said he thought if MPS did start renting facilities again, they would need to have strict guidelines.

“I don’t think anybody is asking us to open up normally,” said school board member Bill Mulso.

Superintendent Jeremy Williams said he will draft some possibilities and bring them back before the board Nov. 2.

With COVID-19 precautions in place, “Currently, we’re not renting out our facilities,” except for some summer outdoor activities, Williams said. But the district is starting to get more requests, and Williams asked the school board what they thought should be done.

“We’ve got to give a safe opportunity for some of these kids to continue activities,” Mulso said. Board member Bill Swope agreed.

“Our buildings belong to our community,” Swope said.

Other board members voiced concerns about having more indoor activities, and the possibility of kids getting sick.

“The summer’s a different animal,” said board member Sara Runchey. “This is all going to be stuff that’s indoors.”

Runchey said the school district had a responsibility to help keep students safe. However, the logistics of doing that would be hard — it would involve limiting numbers of people, figuring out who can be in a gym at the same time, and monitoring to make sure people follow social distancing guidelines.

Board member Aaron Ziemer said students are already exposed to risks outside of school. Some youth have already been participating in sports, and traveling in order to compete, he said. Plus, kids are still likely to gather with friends outside school.

Ziemer said it might be safer to offer activities in the community.

“I do think, on the other side, that we have to be very careful how we do them,” he said.

Student school board representatives Samiya Osman and Ayan Mohamed said some Marshall High School students were upset about missing out on sports and activities. But some students were also concerned about the risk of getting sick, they said.

Even among board members who thought facilities rentals should start up again, there were also concerns. Swope said allowing rentals would also mean extra cleaning time and costs.

MPS isn’t alone in trying to figure out how best to proceed with indoor activities, Williams said.

“There’s a lot of discussions taking place” in other school districts too, he said. MPS has return to play guidelines that will be updated for winter, as well.

Williams agreed that if MPS rented out school facilities again, it will need some kind of restrictions. While West Side Elementary recently switched to distance learning in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases and quarantining, district-wide Marshall’s case numbers have been relatively stable. MPS has been able to stay in a hybrid learning model since the start of the year, and Williams said he would hate to lose that.

Williams said he would draft some possible stipulations for facilities rentals, and would bring them to the board’s next meeting.

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