School District of Janesville to move forward with winter sports despite pleas of local health officials

JANESVILLE, Wis. – The School District of Janesville will move forward with winter sports, despite pleas from the Rock County Public Health Department not to.

The district, which held a board meeting to discuss requests made by the health department amidst a month and a half long surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, voted to pivot both high schools and middle schools to virtual learning until mid-January.

Despite that, the board voted 6-3 to move forward with fall sports under precautionary guidelines laid out by the WIAA.

Under the decision, student athletes will be allowed two fans per participant.

“It’s definitely something nobody signed up for,” said board clerk Michelle Haworth, who voted for sports to return. “None of these decisions we’re having to make right now are easy for us.”

Haworth says her decision was influenced by her son, a Craig Freshman who plays basketball.

“I’ve seen so much anxiety in our students, my own kids, their friends, all the stress of the election and of COVID is taking a toll on these students mentally,” she said. “Parents have the right to not sign their child up.”

Headed into Wednesday night’s meeting, the school district reported roughly 450 students were quarantining due to Coronavirus concerns. Haworth says ultimately, she feels losing out on sports could do more to harm students than the disease.

“Personally, I feel that the risk of what we could be putting through mentally and socially if we pull one more thing away from them, the sports that they love, is greater than the risk of them getting COVID,” she said.

Other board members disagree.

“We all have to make concessions and some hard decisions, because this pandemic has kind of forced us to make those concessions during this time,” said Lisa Hurda, who voted against the decision to play.  “It’s not about the ‘I’s’, it’s about the ‘We’s’.”

Hurda, who’s 15-year-old son also plays basketball, says he made the voluntary decision not to play despite the season being cleared.

“He feels, if he got COVID and infected another teammate, and another teammate went home and infected one of their family members, and worse case scenario that led to someone having long lasting effects after recovery, or even possible death, his mental health would not be able to sustain knowing the fact that he caused that,” she said.

The Rock County Public Health Department declined an interview Thursday afternoon, but said in a statement: “At this time high risk and team sports are not recommended and highly discouraged. If schools choose to allow winter sports, we would still strongly recommend that parents and students not participate.”

The School District of Janesville declined multiple requests for comment. A school spokesperson eventually said the district had no comment to make on the matter.