Opinion: McLean prioritizes basketball game over student safety

Despite vocal opposition from students, two basketball games continued amid a COVID-19 case uptick


Gianna Di-Reumante

Few fans filled the bleachers to watch the girls varsity game against Langley. A COVID-19 case spike has discouraged students from attending the highly anticipated game.

The final day before winter break was filled with a number of half-empty classes, partly due to a surge in COVID-19 cases over the past week that has taken students by surprise. Amidst all the confusion, contact tracing and empty desks, the school opted to continue the McLean-Langley basketball games as scheduled.

Many students chose not to attend the rivalry game, citing vacations and incoming family members as reasons to avoid the risk of being infected with the communicable illness.

“I will not be attending the Langley game,” sophomore Camila Diaz said. “I have a ton of family coming into town soon and I don’t want to risk getting COVID.” 

Regardless of this year’s decreased attendance, the game trudged forward with a maximum capacity of 1,000 people. That’s 1,000 people spread over two games in a high school-sized gymnasium. In no way was the capacity limit a responsible decision, considering that it could easily derail holiday travel plans and put the greater McLean community at risk.

“It’s reckless,” said student council vice president Arman Nikmorad. “It is reckless that [the] McLean [school administration] plans to keep the game going at 1,000 person capacity when it is rumored that there are 35+ COVID cases.”

Postponing or even canceling the game would be unfortunate for fans on both sides, but it would have been the right decision in the long run to protect students and their relatives. Many people are traveling over the break, visiting elderly relatives who are especially vulnerable to the disease. Most supposed precautions the school is taking at the game are ridiculous; for instance, the administration expects masks to be worn at an indoor game with concessions. It’s almost as if they’ve never seen the hallways during lunch.

Most troubling is the school’s indifference to the spike in cases and rumors of an outbreak. 83% of voters on The Highlander’s Instagram account said they felt the administration was not addressing rumors of a COVID-19 case spike to the best of their abilities. 71% said they did not feel safe coming to school today, Dec. 17.

Nikmorad sent an email about student concerns to assistant principal Jeffrey Barham, who is the acting principal filling in for Dr. Ellen Reilly while she is on vacation.

“So far, other sporting events from the University of Maryland have been canceled and [Prince George’s] county has closed some of their schools because of COVID outbreaks,” Nikmorad wrote. “From what we have heard from students and basketball players, we ask that you consider postponing our last McLean-Langley game.”

Barham declined, referring to Fairfax County Health Department guidelines.

“The guidance we are currently receiving from the health department is that there is no reason to postpone or limit the amount of fans in the game,” Barham replied. “Unless we get different guidance from them today, the game will go on as scheduled.”

Gregory Miller, Director of Student Activities, also noted that it was a recommendation from the school district to continue the game.

“We did confirm with the Health Department and FCPS Central Office and it was their advice that we play the game as scheduled,” Miller said.

There are 21 official student cases at McLean reported on the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) dashboard, up from 14 last night. More people are likely infected with COVID-19 than the site records due to delays and the fact it only documents infections voluntarily reported to the school. What more will it take for FCPS to finally recognize that the pandemic is worsening?

“It definitely should’ve been postponed,” said senior and varsity girls basketball player Gianna Di-Reumante. “Barely anyone is going to show up…it’s supposed to be the biggest game of the year and it’s just kind of a waste.”

McLean holding a game in the middle of a case spike prioritized the wrong benefits: ticket and concession sales, showcasing athletic talent and entertaining students over community safety in a time of unprecedented COVID-19 contraction. It poses a pressing question on many students’ minds—does anyone in the administration or Central Office even care about the pandemic?