Louisiana senator calls on schools to cancel fall athletics

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s K-12 public schools should cancel student athletics for the fall semester because of the risks stemming from the coronavirus outbreak, chairman of the state Senate’s education committee said ahead of next week’s state school board meeting.

Sen. Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, sent letters to the heads of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana School Boards Association, calling for the suspension of athletic events as a safety precaution.

“I’m asking them to step up and take action to protect our children,” he said in a statement.

Fields wants the state’s top school board to issue rules requiring the suspension. If the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education does not do so, he’s asking the school boards association to ask local school boards and superintendents to cancel fall athletic events voluntarily.

“This suspension should include all activities of any kind that would include student in-person participation in a group setting, including conditioning, practice and team meetings,” Fields wrote in both letters. He added: “I do not believe that conditioning activities can be conducted safely, much less drills, practice and games. There is simply too much close proximity involved to safely conduct these activities.”

He said some public school teams have been holding football practices and other sports activities, and he doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to let the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, a private entity, make decisions about whether student sports events continue during the pandemic.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has scheduled a special July 14 meeting to discuss issues related to the virus outbreak. No agenda has been posted, and it’s unclear if the board will consider Fields’ request. Calls to a board spokesman and the executive director of the school boards association were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The state education department’s reopening guidelines for public schools say schools should “refrain from contact and high-risk sports” during the current Phase 2 restrictions on businesses and activities Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued statewide.

Fields’ request comes as Louisiana is seeing a sharp uptick in confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease and patients who are hospitalized with complications from the disease. Nearly 3,200 Louisiana residents have died from COVID-19, according to the state health department.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.

Louisiana has more than 66,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Public health experts say the actual infection rate is expected to be much higher because many people don’t experience significant symptoms and others never get tested.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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