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WESTMINSTER — A photo of the senior football players from Bellows Falls Union High School in a pyramid — without masks, and not social distancing — has drawn sharp criticism from several members of the high school board.

The photograph was by Kristie Lisai, a well-known freelance photographer from Saxtons River, who was taking a photo of her son and his fellow senior football players, according to BFUHS Principal Christopher Hodsden.

Hodsden later sent out an email reminding coaches of the COVID protocols, and noted that if a student wears a BFUHS uniform, he or she has to wear a mask, and follow social distancing. Hodsden said Lisai apologized to him in an email immediately after the matter was brought up at Monday night's school board meeting by Director Colin James.

James said he is "very, very, very concerned" to see the high school football players in their uniforms on Hadley Field without masks "and certainly not six feet apart."

James brought up the issue at the tail end of the meeting under directors' comments, and he said Wednesday in a follow up interview that he remains very concerned that the football team was not following proper protocols.

James said Hodsden told him it was a "private photograph," but that he admitted the student athletes were in BFUHS uniform and were on the school campus. Hodsden said it wasn't the entire football team, just the seniors.

"We are asking people to wear masks and keep social distance," said James, a graduate of the high school, and a resident of Bellows Falls. He said the football players were "stacked on top of each other, no masks were worn."

"To me, that is not okay," he said.

James said that Hodsden told him in an email that the school nurse "was not concerned" about the football players' photo.

"I'm not usually a thorn," he said to his fellow board members. "But I'm really concerned about that. This isn't over."

James said even if the photo was private, it was on school property, and the students, because they were in uniform, were representing the high school team. He said he saw the photo on social media over the weekend.

"It's never private when it's on school grounds and in a school uniform," BFUHS school director Deborah Wright said.

"If any of those kids get COVID, whose fault is that?" she said.

James was joined by BFUHS directors Wright, Jack Bryar and David Clark, who said they were concerned about the lack of adherence to the COVID-19 safety protocols and the potential problem they posed to other students and teachers' health.

Bryar, during the meeting, said the students should be reminded that football is "recreation," and if it jeopardizes their health and the health of other students, there would be problems. "Colin made an extremely good point," he said. "This is serious business. It's not trivial."

Wright said she, like James, was very concerned about the older students not following the schools' COVID-19 protocols.

BFUHS, like all the schools in the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, have adopted a hybrid schedule, with the student body divided into two cohorts. Only one cohort is allowed in the school at any one time, two days a week, with the balance of the school week in remote or distance learning.

Hodsden noted that the school year started smoothly last week, and there had been no positive or suspected cases of the coronavirus among students.

He said schools throughout the state were waiting for the okay from Gov. Phil Scott to switch to Level 3 protocols, which would allow interscholastic sports.

Bellows Falls, like every Vermont high school, is playing 7-on-7 football this year; practice began last week when school went back in session and no date has been set statewide for games to begin, Hodsden said.

Hodsden said he learned of the photo from James, and did not know about the photograph ahead of time.

"We can't patrol the school 24/7," he said. Nonetheless, Hodsden sent out an email to all the BFUHS coaches reminding them that students, if in uniform and on school property, must adhere to the school's COVID-19 protocols — wearing a mask and social distancing.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.


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