The DIAA Board of Directors waited until nearly seven hours into their monthly meeting to discuss Governor Carney's emergency order, lifting a mask mandate for Delaware athletes, but by then, it was too late.
After spending two hours in executive session over the eligibility of four athletes, another two hours the out-of-season coaching debate, and at least an hour on various football issues, the agenda item addressing last week's decision by Carney finally came before the board.
"If [the] Division of Public Health is telling us we don't have to wear masks for youth athletes, then why would we continue to put them at risk from an injury standpoint if we can avoid it?" Dr. Bradley Bley, the medical member of the board asked.
The issue is, while Governor Carney's order would seem to free athletes of masks, the DIAA Board specifically wrote into their own regulation instructing student-athletes and coaches to follow DPH guidance. They also wrote sport-specific guidance of their own, requiring masks for practically every DIAA sport.
During their discussion on out-of-season coaching, the DIAA Board did vote to remove sport-specific guidance, but the change doesn't happen overnight.
The board must wait to register the regulation change with the Delaware Registrar on May 1. That's followed by a 30-day waiting period, which could include a public hearing. If a public hearing takes place, there would be an additional 15-day waiting period. By that point, the spring season in Delaware would have concluded -- with student-athletes wearing masks the entire time.
That led DIAA Board President Bradley Layfield to try to circumvent the timetable by introducing the concept of an emergency regulation, similar to what the DIAA at the start of the pandemic, that would guide DIAA to follow all of the Division of Public Health's and the governor's decisions going forward.
DIAA lawyer Laura Makransky reminded Layfield that there are specific guidelines for emergency regulations.
"In order to pass an emergency regulation, you have to determine there is imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare," she said.
Bley responded that risk exists.
"We know there's a risk of wearing a mask. We have had cases of athletes -- potentially, we can't substantiate all of these -- being injured being hit by a ball because they didn't see it coming because the mask slid up or down their face, so I would be in favor that there is a health and safety peril," he said.
Makransky pushed back.
"You put those requirements in effect as part of an emergency regulation, and now you're saying you want to eliminate them because there's now a safety risk associated? Is it in all of spring sports or just certain spring sports?"
After reminding the board that even if they passed the regulation, it would still have to be approved by the State Board of Education at the April 22 meeting, the regulation passed unanimously in a voice vote. Then, a major problem reared its head.
"I see we're down to nine members," Layfield said casually while transitioning the discussion to other topics.
"By Statue 306, a majority of voting members of the board shall constitute a quorum, so Mr. Rodriguez does not count in the 10. Once you lose quorum, you have to stop."
Layfield then realized what that meant after he couldn't prove that there were the mandated 10 people on the call for the vote on the emergency ordinance.
"So I guess that if we did not have 10 voting members present, then the motion to uh.... that's a pretty sad state of affairs."
Layfield called for a quick recess, noting there was about to be an optics problem for the board.
"I think we'd look like buffoons to the public right now when the governor says we're allowed to play without masks, and we wanted to move forward on something like that."
He could not obtain a tenth member after 4 p.m., as after school activities and Easter Break conspired to shrink the available board member count to nine, effectively ending the meeting and leaving the mask issue in the balance.
In order to get the emergency ordinance in front of the State Board of Education on April 22, DIAA will have to find a way to hold an emergency meeting by April 15, so they would qualify for the agenda of the BOE's April meeting.
That means the DIAA regulation requiring mask use in all sports is in effect until further notice.
NEW FOOTBALL SCHEDULE STRUCTURE APPROVED
The DIAA Board did officially approve two requests by the football community to extend the season at both the beginning and the end by a week.
Waivers were accepted from all but five DIAA schools who requested a "Week 0" in football to help with scheduling. That means teams will have 11 weeks to play 10 games and can start practices as early as August 9.
In addition, the playoff structure at all three of the new levels were approved.
3A will have an open 11-team tournament for the largest, most successful schools, 2A will have a 12-team tournament, while 1A will go with an eight-team event.
The four-week tournaments in 3A and 2A will add an extra week to the back end of the schedule while 1A can complete its postseason in the traditional three weeks.
EQUITY BATTLE CONTINUES IN OUT OF SEASON COACHING DEBATE
The DIAA passed tentative regulation that would allow school coaches to work with their athletes out of their traditional seasons for up to 4-hours per week, with a maximum of two hours at a time.
The board had considered eliminating a rule that banned coaches from working with their high school athletes on a private club team, but ultimately placed that back into the regulation due to an equity concern.
A 2019 interpretation by the Public Integrity Commission states that "Public school coaches may not work for private sports clubs. The Commission did not believe that private sports clubs were open and 'accessible' to everyone because lower-income families could not afford such camps or clubs.
While public school coaches are required to follow PIC guidance, private schools aren't, so had the DIAA removed the requirement, it would have given private school coaches more of an opportunity to work with their athletes than public school coaches would.
This flies in the face of a 2018 Delaware Senate Concurrent Resolution introduced by State Sen. Nicole Poore, the mother of private-school athletes at Caravel, which directed the DIAA to create regulations to allow coaches to have more opportunity to work with athletes.
The DIAA Board said they might be required to ask for the legislature's help in rectifying the Public Integrity Commission's concerns, so a level playing field could be put in play.
That regulation would, like the mask use, be up for public comment beginning on May 1.