SCARBOROUGH — After an update in requirements, in-person athletics and activities at Scarborough Public Schools are starting again as of Jan. 26.

The Maine Principals Association announced on Jan. 20 that the color coding system used for schools to determine whether in-person learning can continue will no longer be in use for school-based activities. The red, yellow and green color system will remain in place for the academic side of school, however.

When utilizing the color coding system, which depends on a county’s COVID risk, yellow or red status meant that after-school activities and athletics could not be held in person, said Director of Athletic and Activities Michael LeGage on Jan. 21.

Cumberland County is one of several counties in the state that are designated as yellow and until last week’s ruling were not allow to practice or play interscholastic games.

The decision was a major shift from the pandemic-related policy in place since the start of the school year, according to the Portland Press Herald. The principals association met virtually with state education and health agencies on Jan. 20, and they agreed to reverse the stance on yellow counties after a lengthy discussion.

Previously, schools in counties designated as yellow in the Maine Department of Education’s color-coded system were not allowed to participate in any school-based activities, such as sports, drama club or music.

“The color coding system will be used as advisory to in-person learning, but will no longer apply to school-based activities,” the principals association said in a memo it sent to schools Wednesday night. “If it is deemed safe to do so by the local administration, teams may begin practicing, following the established sport-specific return to play guidelines.”

MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said everyone involved in the decision acknowledged the emotional and mental toll the lack of participation has taken on students during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the PPH.

“I think there was considerable discussion regarding the emotional and social well-being among the kids, as well as the disparity between school-based programs and community-based programs,” Burnham said.

The change will be significant for administration, but families and students will feel that the change is similar to when schools were in the ‘green,’ LeGage said.

There had been pushback by some in the state regarding how community athletics and activities could be in-person but school-based ones could not, he said.

“So they’re going to have one standard, and how they did that was essentially wipe out the color-coding system for education-based athletic programs and activity programs,” LeGage said.

The decision to continue playing in-person or not will be up to local schools, he said.

“The framework we’ve come up with is if students are in school, then we’re going to continue in-person after school activities,” LeGage said. “If for some reason the school went fully remote, then we’d probably be looking to go remote, too. It would depend on the reason in that situation. If we went fully remote because of staffing issues, then we’d probably continue in-person activities. If we went remote because of COVID cases, that would be a situation where we would shut down after school activities and be fully remote.”

Regulations like masking and social distancing will still be in effect, he said. A letter to middle school and high school families was released on Jan. 21 and is located on the Scarborough Athletics website.

“We really feel good about the system we have in place for screening and for following all the COVID guidelines, so it really was a simple thing for us to put together, more like a letter outlining, ‘OK we’re getting ready to come back now,'” he said.

LeGage added that those involved are dedicated to have a full spring season this year because spring athletics were the only ones to have been fully cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic last year.

Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Mike Lowe contributed to this story.

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