The impact of COVID-19 to high school activity programs, including both fine arts programs and athletics, is not limited to health concerns for students, coaches and sponsors of those programs.
At Enid (Oklahoma) High School, the financial costs associated with personal protective equipment, individual health monitoring, and increased time away from training and rehearsals has an impact that is nearly immeasurable.
Our estimated costs of furnishing personal protective equipment (cloth mask, paper mask, face shields, Plexiglass for desks, etc.,), disinfectant wipes, disinfectant spray, thermometers, and a multitude of other virus-related mitigation supplies for all students and staff has a cost in excess of $600,000. And this does not include new curriculum or devices required to ensure that quality education is delivered to students participating in virtual learning.
On the surface, it may appear to be a simple calculation. For example, an infrared thermometer costs only $45, and paying an individual to record temperatures may only equate to a total cost of $20 a day; however, what is the real impact and real cost of limited participation, social distancing protocols, and the possibility of barring fans from attendance at events?
The measurable costs of COVID-19 are mostly related to limited participation and limiting the number of fans and audiences to athletic and fine arts activities, respectively. Fortunately, this has not yet occurred in our schools, but it has in other areas and certainly could here.
If a requirement were mandated, the loss of revenue from admission fees would have a negative impact on the school district’s overall budget. Officials are typically paid from admission fees. If the district loses gate admission (ticket) revenue, the cost burden for game officials would have to be made up of funds from the general operating fund of the school district. The total cost for officials typically runs between $100,000 to $125,000 a year for our district.
Fine arts organizations utilize admission fees to pay for the “above and beyond” expenses of their performances, which are usually student-driven and enhance the overall quality of the programs. Admission funds are also used to grow the programs and make the following years’ productions grander than the previous year, all without utilizing additional district funds for expanding student performances.
These financial costs, however, pale in comparison to the immeasurable cost associated with students and the limits being placed on them through requirements of social distancing and limitations on who can perform and participate. From the fan’s perspective, things may appear to be operating as usual. However, for students who participate in athletics and fine arts programs, the changes and limitations to practice schedules and travel do have an impact on their overall growth as participants, artists and athletes.
Social distancing has created an environment that requires more time outdoors for students participating in most activity programs. Competitions, games and practices have been canceled because social distancing cannot be maintained. Additional coaches and additional time are required to sufficiently spread students out so that close contact is limited and social distancing can be maintained during rehearsals and practices.
Travel, in some cases, has been problematic because of the need to spread students out. Trips that last longer than an hour could require more than the normal number that would normally be used for travel. In many cases, coaches and sponsors are simply spending more time working with smaller groups of students and spending less time with their own families in the mornings and evenings.
Social distancing requirements have also created an environment in which multiple competitions for fine arts programs have been canceled – oftentimes without plans to reschedule for the year. This has a negative impact on students who use competition as motivation for rehearsal. Students need competitions to demonstrate their skills to earn self-fulfillment and acknowledgement of talent from their peers outside of their local communities.
Another impact is a limited ability for students to experience self-improvement and team improvement in their activities, which could have long-term repercussions. Public schools provide unique opportunities for students to learn, practice and enhance their skills that otherwise may not be afforded by the student’s parents through private lessons.
Athletes are prevented from coming into close contact with other athletes. Lifting and running requires social distancing and limits peer interaction. Band and choir students have to practice outside, or not practice at all as groups, because of the amount and distance of air and droplet travel that just one individual can move around a room.
These factors all create an environment that is abnormal, and it is not conducive to self-improvement or group improvement. Not being able to be involved in sports or activities could potentially affect a student’s chance at a college scholarship or other educational opportunities. The cost of this could be $50,000-$100,000 for an individual student. It is important that school districts continue to find ways to provide the safest environment possible so that students can participate, improve their skills and excel in their chosen activity programs.
Every day, we see students pushing forward in learning, practicing, improving their skills, and working with resilience through the impacts of social distancing – all despite knowing that the next competition may not happen. This dedication makes us proud of our students and is confirmation that the community’s effort to protect students does have a purpose, and students are responding in commendable and robust ways
Dr. Sam Robinson is chief financial officer of the Enid Public Schools in Enid, Oklahoma.