We’re still playing high school football, so why is the math team stuck at home?

2November 2020

When Highland Park High School’s dynastic math team competes Monday in the season’s first statewide meet, it will have the advantage of having practiced off a fabled textbook written by members of the school’s 2001 state championship team.

But the Scots mathletes face a pandemic-induced handicap, too.

Because St. Paul Public Schools remains in distance learning, the squad’s top eight players can’t be in the same room for the team part of the competition.

“It’s going to really suck if we can’t make state for a 26th (consecutive) year because all the suburban teams get to meet in-person and we don’t,” senior captain Clare Murphy said.


Teacher and longtime math club advisor Michael O’Connell isn’t as concerned. He thinks the team will do just fine over Google Meet.

“I’d say there’s a slight disadvantage,” he said. “There’s certainly nothing that’s going to prevent them from performing well in that environment. It’s just not as gratifying.”

For the students, though, the school district’s ongoing prohibition on in-person gatherings for school clubs is a reminder of which school activities are valued and which aren’t. Later in the week, Scots teams will compete in volleyball and football — and not over videoconference.

“It sends a message that the school doesn’t care about anyone but sports,” Murphy said.

School district spokesman Kevin Burns said school sports still are on because they’re governed by the Minnesota State High School League, which decided those teams can play.

The district is “erring on the side of safety” by keeping club participants away from each other, he said.

“If for no other reason than our buildings are empty and we are in distance learning, we are choosing to be more restrictive with our clubs and activities,” Burns said.

“This isn’t optimal,” he added. “I totally understand the frustration of everyone involved that none of this is optimal, none of this is ideal.”


The St. Paul district is one of the few in Minnesota that have not yet reopened — except for 368 special-education students — after closing in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But now that the virus is again spreading out of control, more middle and high schools are moving back to distance learning. Many sports teams, though, will continue to play.

The Anoka-Hennepin school board said Monday that they plan to keep playing sports even though they’ve deemed it too dangerous to hold in-person classes — even at less than half capacity.

Several others have made the same call, closing schools but keeping athletics in play, including Osseo, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale.

The Minnesota Department of Education reiterated following the Anoka-Hennepin decision that districts should look at coronavirus activity at the school level, not just the county level, when deciding whether to suspend in-person classes and activities. But if the data says it’s unsafe to have students in school, state guidance says school activities should stop for at least two weeks.

Osseo Superintendent Cory McIntyre told families Friday that the state’s advice means they can “maintain activities/athletics as long as district leaders determine that there is no substantial, uncontrolled community spread among activities participants and athletes.”

Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker has the authority to overrule school districts and shut down schools or activities for safety reasons, but she’s yet to use it.

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