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J. Thomas McNamara

    Five Macon County and two area superintendents are among the more than 200 who delivered a letter to Gov. JB Pritzker’s office asking state officials to “create a mitigation plan to allow student-athletes to safely compete in a 2020-21 winter basketball season.”
    The seven superintendents, in alphabetical order, are Damian D. Jones Sr., Argenta-Oreana; DeAnn M. Heck, Central A&M; Brett Robinson, Cerro Gordo; John Ahlemeyer, Maroa-Forsyth; Andy Pygott, Meridian; Travis Roundcount, Mount Zion, and Cheryl Warner, Warrensburg-Latham.
    I was able to get a copy of the letter which was delivered to the governor’s office Thursday.  It wants the opportunity to meet with the Governor and the Illinois Department of Public Health officials to discuss options of teams suiting up this winter.
    “First, we want to thank you for the work you are doing as Governor to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 while keeping our communities, families, and most importantly our students in a safer environment. The purpose of this letter is to share our experience and perspectives as educators and leaders tasked with the safety and well-being of our students, staff, families and communities.
    “The educational experiences of our students are most successful and valuable while interacting in-person with teachers and coaches while participating in extracurricular and co-curricular activities in our schools. Well-rounded and balanced experiences inside and outside of our classrooms help our children mature into young men and women.
    “The pandemic has and continues to impact the social interactions of our students among their peers, adults, and various situations that help prepare them for what life will bring.  Some of the negative effects that we are seeing as a result of these experiences being limited are depression, anxiety, lack of motivation, and loss of self.
    “Despite the resilience of children, negative consequences are appearing and we fear this is the tip of the iceberg as these issues continue to rise.  The interactions and opportunities provided before, during, and after school hours throughout a variety of settings shape the lives of our students.  Educators have worked relentlessly to reinvent how we educate our students and provide social interactions over the past six months.  However, extracurricular experiences that include high stress situations, teamwork, dedication and focus towards a common goal cannot be replicated unless students are given the opportunity to play and participate.
    “We urge you to consider three factors before delaying or canceling any future extra-curricular seasons at the high school or junior high/middle school level,” the superintendents write.
    “School districts have shown that when given the opportunity, we rise to the challenge and find the delicate balance between health and safety of our school communities while providing for continuity of learning.  Districts this summer created a plan, adhered to State safety measures, implemented cleaning protocols and made decisions in the best interest of our students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “School districts are creative. We continue to find ways to connect with students, teach them, and provide opportunities for participation, and to hold special events. Schools have students learning in remote, blended and in-person environments.  We have made special events such as graduations, parking lot proms, drive through celebrations, senior recognitions and much more happen safely.  Parents have become our partners in even deeper and more meaningful ways.
    “In most instances, positive cases found in schools come from outside of the school.  We take the safety of our students seriously.  When it comes to athletics, schools will provide a safer environment with procedures and accountability with more fidelity than a travel or club program every single time.  Without the opportunities in our schools, students will play for unregulated clubs and travel teams while traveling out of state to do so.
    “We as superintendents are calling on you to allow our students to participate in extracurricular activities and interscholastic competition.  While each scenario is different, schools have shown that we are adaptable, vigilant, and accountable while keeping the health, safety, and well-being of our students as the highest priority.  It is time to allow superintendents, athletic directors and coaches the opportunity to partner with IDPH to provide interscholastic competition in a safe environment.  Our students are our top priority and nobody will take better care of them than our schools and the educators who have dedicated their lives to them.  Our students will benefit immensely from the unrepeatable experiences.  The physical, mental and academic well-being of our students are depending on us.  Our students are depending on you.
    I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

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