WEST ORANGE, NJ — J. Scott Cascone, superintendent of the West Orange School Distrct, this week gave his approval to proceed with Phase 1 of a return to high school sports.

In response to a list of guidelines received from West Orange High School athletic director Ron Bligh on how each fall sport can proceed to restart its training in Phase 1 this summer, Cascone gave his authorization while acknowledging that the specific status of fall scholastic sports in New Jersey remains undetermined.

"High schools are authorized to begin Phase 1 on July 13. I am recommending that West Orange move forward with this initial phase," Cascone said in a statement released on Tuesday.

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The superintendent tempered his approval by saying the fall sports season's status is still very much in question.

"When reviewing the social distancing guidelines put forth governing the opening of schools in September, the 'disconnect' placing athletes from opposing teams on the same field competing is obvious. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether the fall season will occur as scheduled. As we’ve seen, a number of college level programs have already canceled their seasons; I do believe that there will be more coming," Cascone said. "That being said, my approval of moving forward with Phase 1 is based not only on my confidence in the rather extensive health and safety protocol which will be utilized; but more importantly because I feel that it represents a sense of normalcy for our children. They have been sequestered for far too long without the benefit of interaction with their classmates, coaches and mentors, and without structured physical activity. Phase 1 will include only conditioning exercises done at a safe social distance from their teammates.

"It remains to be seen the extent to which our children will return to normal in September. If at this time, we can provide them with some degree of hope and positive outlet, I do believe it is worthwhile," Cascone said. "If your child intends to participate in a fall sport, please review the correspondence carefully, as it contains information not only regarding the various health and safety protocol; but also registration, scheduling and contact information for coaches."

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), the governing body of scholastic sports in the state, recently developed a three-phase plan to reopen athletics. Phase 1 of the plan is meant to physically recondition student athletes who have been away from athletics due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Phase I will begin on July 13 and is scheduled to run through July 26.

"The West Orange High School Athletics Department has assembled a COVID-19 Response Team in order to best maintain the health and safety of our student athletes, coaches, and staff members," Bligh said in his letter. "The members of the West Orange High School COVID-19 response team will include the Athletic Trainers, School Nurses, Supervising Physician, Athletic Director, Principal and the NJ Department of Health. The goal of this team is to identify and implement policies and procedures that will promote a safe return to sport throughout COVID-19.

"When dealing with a potentially severe virus such as COVID-19, appropriate universal precautions must be taken at all times; this must include the use of personal protective equipment (gloves, face masks, hand sanitizer, EPA approved disinfectant products etc.) as indicated by public health officials."

Any student who has tested positive for COVID-19 or who presently has COVID-19 will need to provide clearance from a physician before the student will be permitted to participate. In addition, student athletes with any pre-existing medical conditions or are considered high risk will also be required to provide physician clearance before he/she is permitted to participate in workouts. Final medical clearance will be reviewed and determined by the district Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Kelly.

There were six new cases of COVID-19 in West Orange on Wednesday, according to Mayor Robert Parisi. The data showed 309 "current active cases" of the virus in the township, and 1,028 recovered and closed cases. Two residents remained hospitalized due to the virus, including one in intensive care.