In a surprise move, the Halifax County School Board voted 4-3 Monday night to allow secondary students to participate in practices of extracurricular activities following the guidelines set forth by the CDC, Virginia High School League, the school system’s safety plan outlined in the return-to-school plan and the school system’s COVID-19 athletics plan.

The athletics plan was submitted to the VHSL in August.

The motion to bring back the student athletes was made by ED-2 trustee Roy Keith Lloyd and seconded by ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell, who participated electronically.

The motion caught multiple board members by surprise, with ED-3 trustee and vice-chairman Sandra Garner-Coleman commenting, “That is not on the agenda, do you see that anywhere on the agenda?”

ED-5 trustee Freddie Edmunds told Lloyd he felt he is rushing into everything.

“We have been wrestling with letting kids back into the schools for several months and then you throw this on us tonight with no input or studies that have been done whatsoever. I don’t think that’s fair to the rest of the board,” Edmunds added.

Lloyd, McDowell, ED-4 representative Jay Camp and ED-6 representative and chairman Todd Moser voted to allow the student athletes to return. Garner-Coleman, Edmunds and ED-1 representative Kathy Fraley voted against the measure with Edmunds and Fraley saying, “absolutely not.”

ED-8 trustee Walter Potts Jr. was absent for the meeting but The Gazette contacted him on Tuesday morning for comment calling the action to bring back student-athletes and others involved in Virginia School High League sanctioned activities as “cheap.”

“I wouldn’t have voted for that either. It shows what kind of people we have on the board. They (board members) were blindsided.”

Potts said the board had not previously discussed to bring the student athletes back.

Lloyd said that the motion would allow the athletes to return in a small setting as defined by the plan that was put together by the school, Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg, and central office personnell. The plan would be consistent with guidelines set forth by the CDC, Virginia Department of Education and VHSL.

Camp asked Lloyd if he could outline those guidelines that he was referencing. Lloyd deferred to superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg or Halifax County High School principal Michael Lewis who was in attendance at the meeting.

Dr. Lineburg said the “return to play plan” had been submitted in August before the COVID-19 numbers in Halifax started to rise.

Lewis commented that the universal safety precautions were in the plan along with other guidelines such as all practices must be scheduled through the athletic director and that a 10-1 ratio is recommended but could be as small as 5-1 or 3-1 based on the sport.

“Kids are out here doing things in the community on their own and they could be doing them in an unsafe environment and by bringing them into our schools we can provide a safe environment for the kids,” he added.

Fraley spoke up and told chairman Moser, “I feel like we have been a little bit blindsided tonight. I feel like we need to go ahead and take a roll call vote.”

When Camp was called for his vote he paused and then said that if they are going to send 139 kids back (referring to the earlier vote to allow special education students to return) and if we are going to have 5-1 ratio that is in the guidelines.

He then paused and asked principal Lewis how many athletes they were talking about coming back. Lewis said that he wouldn’t have a clear number until the workouts began because athletes are not required to come. It is an optional return.

The high school principal also clarified that coaches and assistant coaches would be included and that they have personal protective equipment situation (PPE) and thermometers to use before workouts.

After taking a minute to think about the situation, Camp voted in favor of bringing the athletes back to practice and workouts.

A start date is still not set though as Lloyd said he would leave that up to Dr. Lineburg.

On Tuesday, Halifax County Athletic Director Allen Lawter confirmed that there is no start date at this time, but said Lewis and Dr. Lineburg would be meeting soon to establish one.

The Halifax County Public Schools COVID-19 Athletics Plan Overview that was sent to the VHSL outlines protocols and safety precautions for student athletes and coaches.

The first steps to be taken prior to a workout will be that a health monitoring form must be completed before each workout or practice. Documentation will be kept on file in the athletic training room and reviewed by the athletic trainer.

Cloth face coverings are encouraged to be used as frequently as possible unless a medical condition prevents it, with exceptions being swimming, distance running or other high intensity aerobic activity. Students and coaches must provide their own face covering.

Universal safety precautions include no coming to practice if you do not feel well, maintaining group ratios at 10-1 or less, maintaining no more than 50 people for outdoor workouts and maintaining 10 feet of social distancing.

No direct or indirect contact will be allowed, and the groups must maintain static, which means that the same students and coaches will remain together throughout the duration of workouts and coaches cannot work with several groups.

There will be no access to locker rooms at this time unless a weather emergency requires shelter, and no sharing of water bottles, clothing or equipment.

Access will be given to restroom facilities, and those will be disinfected regularly. Students are asked to bring at least a gallon of water labeled with their name.

Coaches are to arrive at the facility and clean the facilities prior to opening or at the end of the previous day. One entrance/exit is to be used with social distancing being adhered to, and screenings must be done before entering the workout area or building. Screenings include temperature checks and completion of monitoring forms.

Once a date is decided on to start workouts, the athletic plan states each coach will contact the athletic director to schedule a time for their team’s workouts.

Johnathan Kirland is a sports writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him Follow him on Twitter @JohnathanK_GV