McALLEN — McAllen ISD has approved the reinstatement of on-campus fall sports practices at all three of the district’s high schools — McAllen High, Memorial and Rowe — on Tuesday during a board meeting Monday evening at McAllen High.

McAllen ISD Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez made the ultimate decision as it relates to a potential return of athletic activities, approving a thoroughly approved return-to-play proposal composed by district personnel.

The decision comes a day after a Hidalgo County health order forbidding on-campus activities at K-12 schools throughout the county expired Sunday, with new recommendations extending through late October in place of the previous mandate.

The move also marks the return of fall sports student-athletes to the campuses of McHi, Memorial and Rowe for athletic activities for the first time in more than three months amid the Rio Grande Valley’s COVID-19 crisis.

“As far as the McAllen ISD back-to-school phase-in plan, we talked about our athletic plan today,” Gonzalez said. “The county of Hidalgo lifted the original (public health) order on Sept. 27, and I know that (Hidalgo County Public Health Authority Dr. Ivan) Melendez came back with an order that had some flexibility in it. We are going to move forward with varsity fall sports and varsity fine arts programs starting (Tuesday).”

McAllen schools participated in UIL-approved summer strength and conditioning workouts and fine arts rehearsals that began June 8 but were postponed indefinitely by June 16 out of an abundance of caution while virtual training persisted.

The McAllen school district noted, as have a plurality of other Rio Grande Valley school districts, it will only bring back varsity athletics and extracurricular activities at the high school level for fall sports, meaning the varsity cross country, football, team tennis and volleyball teams at McHi, Memorial and Rowe will be able to get back to work immediately after a lengthy layoff.

District officials also believe McAllen ISD’s gradual approach toward bringing students back onto campus has provided them the opportunity to be strategic while maintaining flexibility.

“We’ve taken a very strategic approach in bringing students back, so at this point, we only have 50-60 students that are (in) face-to-face (learning) district-wide and they’re working with proctors right now. We have 1,580 teachers and we only have 10 coming in to serve as proctors, so at this point, a vast majority of our teachers are still teaching from home and the vast majority of our students are learning from home,” Gonzalez said.

“But that small group of students that are being proctored does meet TEA (Texas Education Agency) standards, so we believe this is the best thing for us right now. We were able to take this small group and learn from it, then we can scale up everything as we learn and get closer to bringing more students back.”

Gonzalez added that cooperation and teamwork between McAllen ISD board members, administrators, coaches and teachers have made this return possible.

“It all starts with a very supportive board and we have a very supportive board at McAllen ISD. They work very closely with us when it comes to providing oversight and guidance, and we also have a very strong administration. I’m very proud of how we reacted to COVID-19 starting back in March,” he said.

“We’ve put in quality systems and processes all the way through, we’ve been conservative with our staff — we’re one of the only school districts that still has teachers teaching remotely at this point, the vast majority of them — and I’m very proud of the entire team for being thinkers and being able to maneuver through this whole pandemic. We’re excited about the opportunity to move forward.”

The first week of football games for the McHi Bulldogs, Memorial Mustangs and Rowe Warriors will kick off in mid-October, while the cross country, team tennis and volleyball will likely begin earlier at each school.

McAllen Memorial is tentatively scheduled to ring in the start of the RGV high school football season with a season-opening contest against the Edinburg Vela SaberCats on Oct. 15, while McAllen Rowe is set to take on the Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks on Oct. 16.


Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch