Anoka-Hennepin School Board votes to continue sports after protest from students and parents

"There is no question that community feedback drove the school board to take action."

The Anoka-Hennepin School Board voted to continue with extracurricular activities during a recent board meeting, which was met with a crowd of protesters outside.

The Anoka-Hennepin School Board made its decision Monday to allow extracurricular activities to continue. While the school board has decided to transition to distance learning for all middle and high schools in the district because of a rise in COVID-19 cases, it voted 5-1 to allow athletics, theater and music clubs to proceed, with precautions against COVID-19.

Photo by Jennifer Whittenburg Vendel provided to Alpha News

This goes against a previous announcement that such activities would be shut down by Nov. 2, in accordance with a guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health. The Department of Health calls for suspending extracurricular activities when switching to a distance-learning model. 

“Feedback from parents, students, and community members is considered by the Anoka-Hennepin School Board as they make decisions and there is no question that community feedback drove the school board to take action,” Jim Skelly, communications director for Anoka-Hennepin Schools, told Alpha News.

The vote, which was not on the agenda for the night, came after many parents spoke at the meeting and expressed their concerns about the negative effects of students being confined to distance learning and missing sporting events during their senior year.

Photo by Jennifer Whittenburg Vendel provided to Alpha News

“I think can speak on behalf of many families and many athletes and say that we are not afraid. We are not afraid to play our sports, we are not afraid to come together as one and have our season, you know?” one student said during the board meeting.

Students and parents in support of extracurricular activities coordinated in a private Facebook group beforehand, and asked those who planned to attend the meeting to “come with the right motivation.”

“In an effort to demonstrate our engagement on this issue on behalf of our children, some families will gather at the site of the board meeting on Monday night at 6:30 p.m.,” said a post in the Facebook group. “Let’s be a positive, solution-oriented group of citizens who are there to show love and support for our children.”

Photo by Jennifer Whittenburg Vendel provided to Alpha News

Despite defying the state’s guidelines, Skelly said the Minnesota Department of Education is generally supportive of how the district plans to move forward with athletics. 

“The district has been in contact with the Minnesota Department of Education and they are supportive of the direction provided by the School Board to have the district determine localized data points that will be monitored to determine participation in activities,” he said. “The district will continue with activities, athletics, and academic co-curriculars as expected.”

The Anoka-Hennepin School District is one of the largest in the state, serving roughly 38,000 students and 248,000 residents. Its high schools include Andover, Anoka, Blaine, Champlin and Coon Rapids.