Parents ask school board to expand event capacity limits

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon at a school board meeting Tuesday night (photo taken via live stream).
Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon at a school board meeting Tuesday night (photo taken via live stream).

Local parent Sarah Beck wants the School Board of Alachua County to reconsider the 15 percent capacity rule for sporting events.

With the new rule in place this spring, it is making it difficult for parents to get into sporting events, she told the SBAC during the public comment portion of the regular meeting on Tuesday night.

“No parent should ever miss their child participating in anything in this county, whether it’s band, whether it’s sports, drama, athletics, whatever it is they are doing.”

Beck told the board that recently, two in-county teams were playing baseball and only 70 tickets went up for sale on the app GoFan.

“Seventy tickets at Santa Fe High for both schools,” she said. Some parents were turned away from attending the game as a result.

Because baseball is an outside event, Beck requested that the capacity be increased back up to the school district’s initial 25 percent capacity level.

“There’s plenty of room to spread out,” Beck said. “For baseball you have more opportunity to spread out due to bringing your own chair and not sitting in the bleachers.”

Board Member Dr. Gunnar Paulson asked if athletes’ parents were getting priority for ticket purchases.

Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon responded that it varied from school to school: “I understand that [some] athletic directors were opening up first access to family members of the athletes and then the rest of the community.”

Board Chair Dr. Leanetta McNealy said parents of athletes from Keystone Heights which are playing a game in Alachua County this week may run into the same situation where there will be no tickets available to purchase for visiting parents.

Simon said the 15 percent capacity rule stemmed from photos of packed stands being sent to the school district showing lack of social distancing. Simon said she met with the district and each school athletic director and principals about the issue.

“To be honest, our goal is for our athletes to be able to play,” Simon said.

She added that between the number of people at the events and the spike in COVID-19 cases at the time, the proposal [of 15 percent capacity] was to help manage people who weren’t socially distancing or wearing their mask.

“The thought was that 15 percent would help in that aspect,” said Simon, who made the final decision.

Simon referred to the CDC guidelines that recommend sports not be played at all at high schools because of the chance for spread of COVID-19.

Alachua County saw spikes in cases and hundreds of students and staff were taken out of high schools to be quarantined due to cases traced to high school football.

Simon said she consulted with the Scientific Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC) about the situation to come up with solutions for outside events.

She said the biggest issue is people not wanting to follow the guidelines: “We’re trying to make sure our athletes can play, but also going along with our medical advisors.”

During the football season, district athletic director Charley Wise admonished and put on warning several athletic directors after photos circulated on social media showing stands packed with mostly mask-less fans. 

Chair McNealy relayed that an upcoming track meet for eight schools poses a problem for ticket sales and asked that Simon address that event sooner than later.

“I would hope that there would be some consideration for that event that will be coming up very soon,” McNealy said.

“We are in a pandemic, so we have to balance the needs of many components and factors,” Simon responded. “We want to make sure safety is being considered.”

Board member Tina Certain requested that first dibs for tickets be offered to parents of participating students or athletes.

“I think for both teams, if we are going to have restrictions for safety, which I understand, at least give the parents that first option to buy tickets.”

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