Bristol, Virginia schools will allow cheer and band members as participants at games, despite state COVID-19 restrictions

Keeping Schools Safe

BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – Spectators are limited at sporting events under Executive Order 72 by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Bristol, Virginia Public Schools Superintendent Keith Perrigan wants his school system to be able to carry out a COVID-19 safety plan that would allow cheerleaders and band members to participate in upcoming football games this spring.

Perrigan is concerned students will miss opportunities under the current guidelines set by Executive Order 72.

“Last year’s seniors will never get that spring back. This year’s seniors have already lost a full semester of normalcy,” he said.

Traditional fall sports such as football and volleyball are set to be played this spring in a condensed season for the 2020-2021 school year.

Under Executive Order 72, spectators are limited to 25 people per field for indoor sports. Perrigan said this means Virginia High’s 2500-seat indoor gym can only be at 1% spectator capacity this volleyball season.

For outdoor sports like football, spectators are limited to two guests per player. The total
number of spectators cannot exceed 30% of the occupancy load of the certificate of occupancy for the venue, according to the order.

Cheerleaders and band members are considered spectators – and not participants – at these games – putting their involvement in question.

“And so I’ve asked our athletic department to develop a plan that would allow our band and our cheerleaders to participate in our football games,” said Perrigan. “We’ll release those plans a week before the game occurs. And hopefully, the folks will look at the plan and see that we can do it in a safe and effective way.”

Perrigan said he hopes the Virginia Department of Health and governor’s office will be supportive.

“We have demonstrated from a school standpoint that we can provide school safely. We’ve had a winter sports season where we’ve had no examples of transmission. We believe we can implement these changes in our fall sports season as well,” he said.

Perrigan said the school system will release its new safety plan for sporting events this Friday.

“We would like to make sure that our band and cheerleaders are able to participate, and that a couple members of their family are able to come and support them,” he said.

Virginia High senior and band member Sarah Stacy is hoping for an adjustment to guidelines that will allow the band to fully perform at games. She believes the band works too hard to be considered spectators.

“We work so hard to put a show on the field. We work so hard to put our concerts on the stage. And to not have the opportunity to get to do that is really- it’s scary,” said Stacy. “We want to be able to have those experiences while we still can. There are only four years of them.”

A member of the Spirit Squad, senior Kylie Garrett is hoping she can cheer at football games.

“We practice just as much as everyone else. I mean we show up to every game. We’re always there for everyone else. We have to have a physical to participate as well,” said Garrett. “So I believe that should be a good reason why we should be considered a part of the sporting event going on as well.”

News Channel 11 reached out to the governor’s office on Monday regarding whether spectator guidelines under Executive Order 72 would be adjusted, and received the following statement:

“Current health guidelines consider cheerleaders to be participants for the purposes of their own competitions. Any event attendee that is not participating in the sport being played is considered a spectator—they are welcome to gather at sporting events, but they must abide the 25 spectator limit. Schools may choose to limit specific types of participation (cheerleaders, marching bands, etc) to encourage parent attendance, but that is a local decision that must be addressed by each school. 

Executive Order 72 is currently in effect statewide through the end of this month, unless amended or extended further.”

Alena Yarmosky, Senior Communications Advisor 
Office of Governor Ralph Northam

News Channel 11 also reached out to the Virginia High School League for comment on Monday. A VHSL spokesperson said in an email:

“We agree with our schools. Executive Order 72 does not allow schools to base capacity on a percentage. We actually made two proposals for that method to be used prior to EO72 expiring at the end of January. Neither option was accepted. To be clear, the VHSL has no authority to adjust capacity limits for contests…We will continue to advocate for change.”

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