‘Let Us Play’: Dallas ISD Athletes Protest For Chance to Take the Field

Between 50 and 60 student athletes, along with their parents, gathered at the front of the Dallas ISD Linus Wright administration building Monday to deliver one message to district officials: “Let us play.”

Last week, district superintendent Michael Hinojosa postponed in-person athletic practices and other extracurriculars, largely, he said, based on the advice of a panel of experts assembled by Dallas County and tasked with advising districts on best practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the athletes who attended Monday’s protest said that every game they don’t play is a missed opportunity. 

“If we don’t play, we’re just missing another opportunity, missing chances,” said Jayleen Record, a Madison High School football standout and SMU commit. “Mike Hinojosa is not a villain, he’s not a bad person, I just think he needs to understand that we’re trying to have a season, not just for football.”

Record and other students had the backing of their parents, too. Hillcrest High School parent Chris Sido encouraged athletes to continue to be vocal about the matter.

Chris Sido

“Keep your foot on the gas,” he said. “Y’all need to play; other districts are playing, Dallas needs to play.”

Parents and athletes alike pointed to other districts that are on the field already. Also an issue, they said, is the fact that for many student athletes, playing also puts them in front of recruiters, making college more of a reality.

“For some of our kids, the extracurricular activities are what helps them earn scholarships for college, but most of all these groups become their own families in their own way, and they have been separated way too long,” one parent commented on a petition set up to urge the district to return to in-person learning and to allow extracurricular activities to resume. “We as the parents should have our opinions heard and considered when it comes to our kids. Dallas ISD you have gone way over the line now, and you need to listen to us!”

Not every parent, however, feels this way. At recent board meetings and briefings, the sentiment from parents who availed themselves of the public comment option was overwhelmingly in favor of delaying the start of school.

“Glad we have a leader that wants to protect his students, staff and community,” a parent in a W.T. White High School Facebook group said of Hinojosa’s decision.

Parents also worried about what the University Interscholastic League would do to the district if it canceled or further delayed the start of fall sports.

“If UIL kicks DISD out of its extra-curricular line up—which is under consideration after DISD’s decision to cancel sports at this point—it will be for 2 years,” one parent warned, pointing to pages 50 and 51 of the UIL rules as the basis of their worry.

However, both of those pages deal with district alignments, and were written prior to the pandemic. There is no express language that indicates at all that a decision to cancel fall sports would result in the district’s benching for two years.

“No, the UIL will not kick us out of any districts. This year is very different and they informed us they’d work with us and assist us with whatever we needed,” said Dallas ISD spokesperson Robyn Harris. “There are many discussions still taking place around this topic. As of now, there seems to be a timeline to conduct some type of student-athlete participation that is being determined.”

“That is not true,” UIL spokesperson Julia Atkins said regarding the rumor. “Since COVID-19 affects every community differently, UIL’s modified plan has allowed for local decision making. Each school can make the decision whether or not to participate in UIL activities.” 

As it stands, in-person athletic practices are postponed, and band and drill team activities are in distance settings, Hinojosa said last week. The district will delay the start of practices and games for at least two weeks before it will consider allowing them to begin, which could mean that Dallas ISD 4A and below schools might lose all their non-district games, and 6A and 5A schools won’t be able to start practices before Labor Day.

“In addition, all extracurricular activities will remain in a distance setting as well, including strength and conditioning, band and drill team, all UIL and visual and performing arts activities,” a district statement explained.

The UIL will allow practice for 5A and 6A schools to begin on Sept. 7 at the earliest.

“There’s still a lot of debate on whether we will have football,” Hinojosa said. “We will have to monitor that.”

The Public Health and Education 2020-2021 School Year Ad Hoc Committee, which is made up of Dr. Preston Wiles, Dr. Wendy Chung, Libby Doggett, Ph. D., Dr. Amanda Evans, Dr. Charles Ginsburg, Dr. Victoria Shinn, and Pamela Reese-Taylor, RN, offered recommendations for schools navigating the choppy waters of reopening during a pandemic.

“We have examined the various activities and factors that may contribute to the spread of infection and increased risk across the wide spectrum of daily learning, extracurricular, and sports activities in which students participate,” the committee said. “We have also examined the various environments in which children learn, play, eat, engage in fine arts activities, and participate in sports as these environments pertain to the relative risk of spreading of the infection and increasing the prevalence of coronavirus.”

In addition to recommending schools begin instruction online only, the committee also recommended delaying athletic practices, playing musical instruments, and singing.

“By delaying these high-risk transmission activities that occur outside the classroom, there will be a more expedited return of in-classroom learning for all students,” the committee said.

Last week, the Southwest Preparatory Conference canceled fall sports, prematurely ending the high school careers for many seniors at St. Mark’s, ESD, Greenhill, Hockaday, and more. This week, Richardson ISD told Lake Highland High parents that seven people tested positive for COVID-19, and district officials told the Lake Highlands Advocate that some of those positives were from the football team. In-person workouts have been canceled, and players are quarantining.

In June, athletes from Arlington ISD, Carroll ISD, Krum ISD, Plano ISD, and Frisco ISD tested positive, prompting the cancellation of workouts and more quarantining.

Dallas ISD will have a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday, starting at 6 p.m. To register, click here. The Dallas ISD Board of Trustees will meet Thursday at 6 p.m. To register to speak in the public comment portion of the meeting, call the Board Services Office at 972-925-3720 during regular business hours. The deadline to do so is 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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