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East Helena vs. Columbia Falls football game canceled amid COVID concerns

East Helena Football readies for step up to varsity level
Posted at 11:19 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-02 15:23:31-04

EAST HELENA -- In a letter to parents on Tuesday, East Helena Public Schools superintendent Dan Rispens said the Friday, Sept. 3 match-up pitting the Vigilantes football team against Columbia Falls would be canceled amid COVID-19 concerns.

Montana High School Association executive director Mark Beckman told MTN Sports on Wednesday via email that the association's COVID cancellation policy from last season will remain in place.

"COVID cancellations will be considered a no-contest and the schools should attempt to make up that game. If they can’t, they can’t substitute another opponent and districts/divisions/conferences will be responsible to adjust their seeding criteria accordingly," Beckman said in the email.

Columbia Falls athletic director Troy Bowman and the East Helena High School Football Facebook page each confirmed the cancellation with Facebook posts around noon Tuesday.

In the letter, Rispens wrote that East Helena Public Schools is handling close contacts and contact tracing amid the constant updates in information and is to be considered, "a dynamic situation that continues to evolve and change." According to the letter, one student and one staff member have COVID.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control changed the standard operating procedure on how to handle close contacts in schools, but due to the passage of House Bill 702 (prohibiting discrimination based on COVID vaccination status), Rispens said school staff "developed revised protocols for this school year."

The letter specifies that the district is "planning to report weekly to the community as to the level of COVID in the schools. We cannot report on individuals or even individual classes." The district's definition of close contact is within six feet for a cumulative 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period.

While there are a handful of guidelines that EHPS will be following this year, there are a few that could pose critical to sports this school year, including:

- If a student is identified as a close contact, and are transferred to remote learning, they will not be able to participate in student activities (i.e. football, band, etc.).

- Close contacts who can prove prior COVID infection and recovery inside a three-month period to that date will not need to transfer to remote learning and remain in in-person learning, however, it was not made clear if this affects student activity eligibility.

- Students can shorten their remote learning period from 14 to 7 days if they test negative for COVID-19 at least 5 days after their initial exposure.