Photo: Getty Images
A high school football game between the Mater Dei Monarchs and the St. John Bosco Braves on Oct. 25, 2019, at Panish Family Stadium.
Updated July 24, 2020
School leaders across the nation are confronting difficult, high-stakes decisions as they plan for how they will reopen schools this fall as the global COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Safety for students and staff members is the chief priority. But with no vaccine or effective treatment yet against COVID-19, no one can be fully shielded from the risk.
That leaves K-12 leaders to balance three critical—often competing—responsibilities: the health and safety of their people, the role their schools play in the larger community, and the effective teaching of their students.
Many of the options for reopening schools will upend some of the most effective aspects of teaching and learning. The close, in-person collaboration of students on classroom projects, for example, will have to cease for now.
And competitive sports—a critical part of keeping students engaged in school—will need to be severely restricted in certain parts of the country that are continuing to be ravaged by the pandemic. In some states that have the pandemic under control, sports can go on as before.
There are no playbooks for how to determine whether to allow school sports or not during these unprecedented times.
Following public health protocols will cost a lot of money, even as school budgets are pummeled by the economic collapse. Managing the anxieties of teachers, coaches, students, and parents will require patience, compassion, and careful communication.
Here's where each state stands regarding the start of fall high school sports season.
Alabama: Alabama High School Athletic Association executive director Steve Savarese told AL.com last week that he is “extremely optimistic” high school football will start on time, with official practices beginning July 27 and games beginning Aug. 20
Alaska: As of now, the high school football season is scheduled to start on time, Aug. 14.
Arizona: Arizona's Gov. delayed the start of the school year until Aug. 17. The Arizona Interscholastic Association mandates a 3- to 4-week training period before games can be played, meaning the start of football season will be pushed back to Sept. 11.
Arkansas: Contact sports are not allowed in the current phase of the state’s reopening plan, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state would not move to the next phase until case numbers decline. The first day of practices is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 3, with games beginning the week of Aug. 24.
California: The coronavirus pandemic prompted California to spike all fall high school sports on Monday, in favor of a new calendar that will compact all games, like football, into a few winter and spring months. The California Interscholastic Federation, which regulates high school sports, won't stage any games in any sports until at least December, officials said. The new calendar would mean football — a staple of fall Friday nights across America's largest state — would be played in the spring with the last game played no later than April 17, 2021, the CIF announced. CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod admitted the calendar is not ideal. But because so many California schools have said they're going to start the fall term with just online instruction, this was the only option short of canceling whole seasons. "The alternative would be to just cancel an entire season or seasons, In other words, since the fall season couldn't hit in the traditional window of August through November and December, we would have announced the cancellation of the fall season today," Wigod told reporters Monday.
Colorado: As of now, the Colorado high school football season is scheduled to start on time, with games beginning Aug. 27.
Connecticut: The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference will meet Aug. 3 to determine whether teams can begin playing games as scheduled on Aug. 27.
Delaware: Delaware athletes began workouts in the first week of July. However, contact sports are still not allowed. Delaware Gov. John Carney expressed doubt about football being played safely. "I don't see how you play it in the pandemic sense, just think about the huddle,” he said in a news conference. The decision will ultimately be up to the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Florida: The statewide start of fall sports was pushed back four weeks, from Monday to Aug. 24, following an 11-4 vote by the Florida High School Athletic Association’s board of directors on Thursday night. The decision was an about-face for a board that voted 10-5 Monday to protect the FHSAA’s original calendar until it met again. It is a late-breaking curveball for schools like Foundation Academy of Winter Garden, which had scheduled practices for football and other fall sports next week.
Georgia: The Georgia High School Association board of trustees on Monday voted unanimously to delay the regular-season football games by two weeks, starting Sept. 4, rather than Aug. 21, but extend the season later into December. Cross country, volleyball, softball and cheerleading will start on time.
Hawaii: The earliest fall sports will start is Aug. 19, and the state’s athletic association requires 14 days of practice before games can be played.
Idaho: As of now, there have been no delays to the state’s high school football season, scheduled to begin Aug. 28.
Illinois: The state is in Phase 4 of its Return to Play plan. No contact drills or physical contact are currently allowed. There has been no announced delay to the start of the season.
Indiana: Physical contact has been allowed at football practices since July 20, and the state’s high school athletic association commissioner said he expects the season to begin on time. Several teams have had to pause workouts and quarantine players due to positive tests.
Iowa: Iowa High School Athletic Association spokesman Chris Cuellar told the Des Moines Register that the “state is currently planning to have its football season as scheduled, with practice starting Aug. 10 and the first games August 28.”
Kansas: School has been delayed in the state until after Labor Day. Plans for fall sports will be announced at a later date.
Kentucky: The Kentucky High School Athletic Association will not allow voluntary practices until Aug. 2. Games are scheduled to begin Aug. 21.
Louisiana: The state has said football will not be allowed until Stage 4 of the state’s reopening plan for schools. There is currently no date set for this stage.
Maine: The state is scheduled to move to Phase 2 of its reopening plan on July 20, which would permit athletes to train for two hours per day. However, competition is not permitted in this stage, which is scheduled to extend through Aug. 2.
Maryland: Official practices are currently scheduled to start on time, on Aug. 14.
Massachusetts: The board of directors for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association on Tuesday unanimously voted to delay the start of the fall sports season until Sept. 14. State governing entities have yet to decide which fall sports will be permissible because of safety concerns.
Michigan: The Michigan High School Athletic Association announced July 17 that its member schools will begin the 2020-21 school year playing fall sports as traditionally scheduled, but with contingency concepts for potential interruptions due to the spread of COVID-19. The MHSAA representative council, the association’s 19-member legislative body, met virtually with MHSAA staff on July 15 to discuss a series of ideas for playing sports beginning in August. The council will meet again July 29 for further discussion.
Minnesota: The goal is to begin practices as scheduled on Aug. 17.
Mississippi: The Mississippi High School Activities Association voted July 17 to postpone the fall sports season by two weeks. Football teams can start practice Aug. 17 and games Sept. 4. Volleyball, cross country and swim teams can start practice Aug. 10 and competition Aug. 24.
Missouri: The state is currently planned to open the season on time, on Aug. 28.
Montana: The state is currently planned to open the season on time, with games scheduled to begin Aug. 27.
Nebraska: The state is currently scheduled to begin on time. Practices can begin Aug. 10.
Nevada: High school sports won’t be contested in 2020 in Nevada out of coronavirus concerns. And when they do return, it will only be on an abbreviated schedule without a state tournament. The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association released its plans for the 2020-21 school year this afternoon, moving the beginning of all sports to after the new year. The fall season was scheduled to start in the middle of next month. Clark County School District’s decision to go all-online for the start of the school year essentially wiped out the chances of having fall sports. The new NIAA plan moves fall sports to the second semester, with football practices scheduled to begin Feb. 13 ahead of a six-game season.
New Hampshire: Conditioning was allowed beginning in late June. There have been no other announcements regarding delays to the start of the season.
New Jersey: Most fall sports games can start Oct. 1, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s early July ruling. All fall seasons will end by Thanksgiving weekend, leaving time for six regular-season football games and a couple weeks of playoffs.
New Mexico: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on July 9 issued a revised stay-at-home order, which included the cancellation of all fall contact sports. The New Mexico Activities Association said it will hold fall football and soccer seasons in Spring 2021.
New York: The New York State Public High School Athletic Association will delay the start of the fall sports season by several weeks, to Sept. 21. The organization voted July 16 to cancel fall regional and state championships and is prepared to instead adopt a condensed schedule in January 2021 if further delays are necessary.
North Carolina: The state’s athletic association said last week it has not made a decision about whether official team practices will begin as scheduled in early August.
North Dakota: The state’s athletic association will follow the Governor’s restart plan for schools, which is scheduled to be finalized later this month.
Ohio: The state’s athletic association has said the plan is for the football season to go according to schedule, with practices beginning Aug. 1.
Oklahoma: Football and other fall high school sports will continue to proceed as scheduled in Oklahoma. That message was emphasized Thursday by Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association executive director David Jackson during a Zoom meeting update with media. Jackson, however, did note that circumstances involving COVID-19 could dictate a move into another direction.
Oregon: The Oregon School Activities Association said in a July 1 release that football protective equipment is not allowed until practice starts, which is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 17.
Pennsylvania: As of now, football season is scheduled to start on time, with games slated to begin on Aug. 28.
Rhode Island: Official practices are scheduled to begin in late August, with games scheduled to start Sept. 4.
South Carolina: As of now, football season is scheduled to start on time, with games slated to begin on Aug. 21.
South Dakota: South Dakota High School Activities Association executive director Dan Swartos said the group’s 20-person fall sports/activities task force is trending toward keeping fall sports "what they are and where they are," adding that they remain "cautiously optimistic" that they will be able to operate with all of their sports this fall. Fall sports teams will start practice Aug. 17, rather than July 30, according to the plan the South Carolina High School League’s executive committee adopted July 15. The seven-game football regular-season will start Sept. 11 with four rounds of playoffs through late November.
Tennessee: In late June, Gov. Bill Lee extended the state of emergency order through late August, which restricts contact sports and activities below the collegiate and professional levels. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association has said the fall season will be delayed, but hasn’t announced specific plans.
Texas: The University Interscholastic League, which administers high school sports in the state of Texas, announced Tuesday that the high school football seasons for schools with large enrollments will be delayed by one month while smaller schools will be allowed to start their football seasons at their usual time. The delays for the state’s larger schools specifically will affect volleyball along with football. Teams in those sports at large schools now will be allowed to begin practice Sept. 7 instead of Aug. 3, as initially planned. The first football games at those schools cannot begin until Sept. 24, and the season now will run into the new year instead of ending just before Christmas. Texas, which began the first phase of its reopening amid the novel coronavirus pandemic on May 1, well before most other states, has seen a sizable increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, straining health care systems in the state’s urban centers.
Utah: The football season is currently scheduled to start on time, Aug. 14.
Vermont: The Vermont Principals Association is planning on having a fall sports season, but practices are not allowed until the first day of student instruction. This means late August or early September.
Virginia: The Virginia High School League will not play football in the fall. The organization is considering three options: to keep fall, winter and spring seasons in their usual order but cancel all fall sports except golf and cross country, to swap the order of fall and spring sports or start sports in December and play three condensed seasons.
Washington: The executive board for the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association took action July 8 to delay the start of fall sports until Sept. 5 for football and Sept. 7 for other fall sports.
Washington, D.C.: The D.C. State Athletic Association has postponed all high school games until 2021. The organization said July 16 it plans to condense each sports season: winter sports games will run Jan. 24 to Feb. 28, fall sports games from Feb. 22 to April 16 and spring sports games from April 19 to June 13.
West Virginia: In a state that’s faced less rampant spread of the coronavirus, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities commission delayed the start of the football season by one week, eliminating the bye week in what’s typically a 10-game, 11-week season. Practices for all fall sports will start Aug. 17, rather than Aug. 3.
Wisconsin: As of now, the state is scheduled to start its regular season on time.
Wyoming: The state’s football season is currently set to begin on Aug. 28.
Michigan's 2020-21 Return to School Roadmap: Athletics
Spreading to flattening
Spreading to flattening
> The number of new cases and deaths has fallen for a period of time, but overall case levels are
> Most new outbreaks are quickly identified, traced, and contained due to robust testing infrastructure and rapid contact tracing.
> Health system capacity can typically handle these new outbreaks, and therefore case
fatality rate does not rise above typical levels.
> The overall number of infected individuals still indicate the need for distancing to stop transmission and move to the next phase.
School operating status
> In-person instruction is permitted with required safety protocols.
> All outdoor athletics are allowed with safety precautions. The fall indoor sports of volleyball, girls swimming and diving, and boys water polo are not allowed in this phase.
Athletics safety guidelines
> Comply with all guidance published by Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
> Students, teachers, and staff must use proper hand hygiene techniques before and after every practice, event, or other gathering. Every participant should confirm that they are healthy and without any symptoms prior to any event.
> All equipment must be disinfected before and after use.
> Inter-school competitions may be held provided that, facial coverings are worn if school transportation is provided. Buses must be cleaned and disinfected before and after every use.
> Spectators are allowed provided that facial coverings are used by observers and six feet of social distancing can be maintained at all times. Attention must given to entry and exit points to prevent crowding.
> Each participant must use a clearly marked water bottle for individual use. There should be no sharing of this equipment.
> Handshakes, fist bumps, and other unnecessary contact must not occur.
> Indoor weight rooms and physical conditioning activities that require shared equipment are suspended. Outdoor physical conditioning activities are allowed while maintaining social distancing.
> Large scale indoor spectator events are suspended. Large scale outdoor spectator or stadium events are limited to 100 people, and people not part of the same household must maintain six feet of distance from one another.
> Post pandemic.
> Few, if any, active COVID-19 cases locally.
> Community spread not expected to return.
> Sufficient community immunity and availability of treatment.
School operating status
> Schools open for in-person instruction with no required COVID-19-related safety protocols.
> All athletics are allowed with with no required COVID-19-related safety protocols.
> Community spread of the virus is increasing and substantial.
> There is concern about health system capacity.
> Testing and tracing efforts may not be sufficient to control the spread of the pandemic.
School operating status
> No in-person instruction, remote only.
> All athletics are suspended.
> New cases and deaths continue to decrease for an additional period of time.
> At this point, the number of active cases has reached a point where infection from other members of the community is less common.
> With widespread testing, positivity rates often fall much lower than earlier phases.
> Rapid case investigation, contact tracing, and containment strategies cause new cases to continue to fall.
School operating status
> Schools open for in-person instruction with minimal required safety protocols.
> All indoor and outdoor athletics are allowed with minimal required safety protocols.
Athletics safety guidelines
> Indoor spectator events are limited to 50 people. Large scale outdoor spectator or stadium events are limited to 250 people. Spectators not part of the same household must always maintain six feet of distance from one another.
> Students, teachers, and staff must use proper hand hygiene techniques before and after every practice, event, or other gathering.
> Every participant should confirm that they are healthy and without any symptoms prior to any event.
> All equipment must be disinfected before and after use.
> Buses must be cleaned and disinfected before and after every use.
> Each participant should use a clearly marked water bottle for individual use. There should be no sharing of this equipment.
> Indoor weight rooms and physical conditioning activities are allowed. Social distancing of six feet between participants should be maintained while indoors and sharing equipment should be avoided.
> Handshakes, fist bumps, and other unnecessary contact should not occur.