RIO GRANDE CITY — The Rio Grande City CISD school board took a step toward returning to normalcy late Tuesday evening when the board decided to greenlight a tentative return to on-campus fall sports practices Sept. 28.

Multiple coaches and school district administrators and officials close to the situation, who requested anonymity because of the fluid nature of internal discussions and planning, said the Rio Grande City school district was targeting the Sept. 28 restart date, which The Monitor was able to confirm Wednesday morning.

Rio Grande City CISD reached out to The Monitor to add some clarification, noting that the district’s board voted Tuesday night to send out a digital survey to families of student-athletes throughout the district to gauge fall sports interest and preferences.

The survey, which is still being drawn up before being emailed to parents, will help the district decide when or whether to bring back fall sports competition this school year.

“What the school district decided last night in the board (meeting) was that they would take a survey of the parents and of the athletes and parents of the athletes,” RGC CISD spokesperson Bernice Garza said. “If 25-30% of the athletes do not want to come back or their parents don’t want to allow them to come back, we (Rio Grande City CISD) will not be participating in athletics. Basically, the district would not allow athletics to start yet.”

The district also reiterated that its primary priority is the health and safety of its student-athletes, their families and the surrounding community and that it will continue to follow the advice of medical professionals as well as COVID-19 mitigation guidelines presented by the CDC, Texas Education Agency, University Interscholastic League and other state and local public health officials.

“I know here during the summer, some parents (and their kids) started participating in travel baseball teams, which opened up a nice amount of (community) spread as those teams were traveling all over the Valley and the state, so they had to cut those out pretty quickly,” Garza said. “We do have a physician, a pediatrician, on the board, and obviously she is very, very concerned about the spread — not just COVID, but the flu and all other kinds of other stuff — and our (Starr County) health authority isn’t convinced that sports should start, so it’s difficult.”

The Rio Grande City school district also made sure to note that the district has tentatively approved a return to on-campus practices and offseason strength and conditioning workouts but stressed it still hasn’t approved a return to full-fledged competition yet.

The date will mark the first time that cross country, football and volleyball coaches and student-athletes from Grulla and Rio Grande City high schools will be able to work as teams again on their respective campuses since early June when summer strength and conditioning programs around the Rio Grande Valley were shut down in response to surging COVID-19 cases and deaths throughout the region.

The district is one of many, however, that are starting to reevaluate the feasibility of resuming fall sports practices and competition as COVID-19 infection rates and deaths across Texas and the Rio Grande Valley gradually begin to fall to their lowest levels since the beginning of the summer.

The Rio Grande City CISD development likely saves the football seasons for Rio Grande City and Grulla, as well as the other four schools in the five-team, football-only District 16-4A DI. It also very likely saves volleyball and cross country seasons for those schools as well as others like Mission Veterans and Roma, whose District 30-5A was in danger of crumbling if Rio Grande City joined La Joya Palmview in opting out of fall sports competition.

Rio Grande City’s Aaron Marroquin (2) carries the ball against PSJA Southwest in a District 16-5A game at PSJA Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, in Pharr. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Rio Grande City’s football-only District 14-5A DI remains one of the biggest question marks in the discussion of whether Valley sports programs should be allowed to return to action.

The Rattlers are a geographic outlier in that district, but this decision aligns their football program with Eagle Pass Winn, which will also start practices Sept. 28, and San Antonio Southside, San Antonio Southwest and Southwest Legacy, which have all begun practicing.

The only two District 14-5A DI schools that remain on the fence, Laredo Cigarroa and Laredo Martin, will vote on when or if to return later this week.

The Rio Grande City school district also becomes the first Starr County school district to definitively announce the timing of its return to the fields of play for practices, while those decisions remain up in the air at San Isidro ISD and Roma ISD.

The Sept. 28 restart date is the earliest allowed for Starr County schools under an existing county public health order that states in-person learning and on-campus, school-sponsored activities may not resume until after Sept. 27.

Schools and districts in Cameron and Hidalgo counties are operating under the same timeline, for now, while Willacy County schools may resume fall sports practices and in-person learning as early as Sept. 21.

Meanwhile, multiple sources involved in the decision-making process who asked to remain anonymous because of the ongoing nature of internal discussions there have told The Monitor that Mercedes ISD also plans to resume on-campus fall sports practices and activities Sept. 28.

Mercedes Jared De Los Santos (13) escapes the grasp of Nikki Rowe defender Andres Garza (24) during the first half of a high school football game at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 05, 2019. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

The Monitor reached out to the district for comment but had yet to hear back from district personnel at the time of publication.

Those same sources told The Monitor that superintendents from all mid-Valley schools will meet with coaches and school administrators at 2 p.m. Thursday to discuss the safest and most feasible path forward for athletics and sub-varsity sports, or whether to wait longer for a potential return.

The Monitor, Brownsville Herald and Valley Morning Star have previously reported on schedule changes and zone realignments that affect Mercedes’ football and volleyball programs, as well as those of several other mid-Valley school districts.

Mercedes ISD and Rio Grande City CISD, however, now join a growing list of RGV school districts who have announced publicly that they intend to get back to business Sept. 28 pending any changes to the local public health situation.

That growing list of Valley high schools now includes Brownsville Hanna, Brownsville Lopez, Brownsville Pace, Brownsville Porter, Brownsville Rivera, Brownsville Veterans, Edcouch-Elsa, Grulla, Harlingen High, Harlingen South, Hidalgo, La Feria, Los Fresnos, Lyford, McAllen High, McAllen Memorial, McAllen Rowe, Mercedes, Port Isabel, Raymondville, Rio Hondo, San Benito, San Perlita, Santa Maria, Sharyland High and Sharyland Pioneer.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Editor’s Note: This story was edited to add the perspective of a school district after the original version of this story was posted online

Email: amcculloch@themonitor.com

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch