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Last Thursday, the Idaho High School Activities Association published guidelines that should help Gem State localities grapple with a summer full of uncertainties because of the ongoing pandemic.

Decisions made in the next three weeks will determine whether and how Idaho schools will re-open, and whether and how athletic seasons will resume after being canceled by the pandemic in March.

Idaho school district officials and athletic directors are busy with a long list of scenarios in the heat of a Gem State July, amid the persistent coronavirus storm in the U.S.

In a 52-page online document published July 16 by the governing body of Idaho athletics, the IHSAA stated that its goal is to start all athletics and activities on time presuming Gem State schools reopen on time for the 2020-21 year in August.

Just one week before, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said in the Idaho Board of Education Back to School Framework publication, “I expect all our school buildings to safely reopen in the fall for in-person instruction.” He acknowledged that the school year will not look the same as in previous years.

Important dates ahead:

July 24 is the next cutoff date for a decision on Idaho Rebounds staged re-openings. Idaho has been operating in Stage 4 since June, but COVID-19 infections have spiked;

Blaine County School District said it will reveal in late July or early August whether Plan A (all students at school), Plan B (strict social distancing hybrid) or Plan C (distance learning only) will be in place when schools re-open Aug. 17.

The school district has said it is likely that all three plans will be used at different times of the school year, which will put a premium on flexibility;

Aug. 5 is the IHSAA board meeting in Boise;

Aug. 10 is the IHSAA opening day for fall sports practices, with games set to begin in the following weeks.

Since decision-making has been assigned to school districts in 2020-21 re-opening and athletic planning, the leeway passed down from Gov. Little and state officials may result in vastly different approaches, district by district.

The IHSAA guidelines were viewed as a good starting spot. Visit idhsaa.org to see them.

Basically, the document lists recommendations for re-opening sports based on Red Category 3 (no gatherings of more than 10 people), Yellow Category 2 (groups of up to 50 people) and Green Category 1 (gathering sizes over 50).

Sports are grouped by potential risk infections. They are allowed to proceed based on which category is in force. Superintendents make final decisions on whether competitions should be canceled, and schools won’t be penalized by games forfeited by COVID-19.

Higher risk sports include football, wrestling and competitive cheer. Moderate risk sports include soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball and tennis. Lower risk sports are cross country running, golf and individual swimming heats.

With appropriate cleaning of equipment and use of masks by participants, sports like soccer can become lower risk.

Physical distancing, frequent hand sanitizing and use of personal beverage containers are universal. Hand shaking is a thing of the past. And school districts will determine whether limits will be placed on spectators for games.

In its guidelines, the IHSAA gave criteria for the hosting of events, and also listed 12 appendixes of recommendations for individual fall sports, for the conduct of game officials and for game sportsmanship.

IHSAA did so in consultation with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and the IHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committees.

The stated No. 1 goal was the health and safety of student athletes, coaches, officials, game administration and fans, followed by the No. 2 goal of the participation of student athletes.

Email the writer: sports@mtexpress.com

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