Play safe: 2 big districts are requiring student athletes to get vaccinated

Florida officially threatens districts' funding as Texas school superintendents get court backing to mandate masks
By: | August 20, 2021

Athletes in New York City’s schools are among the few groups of students across the country now required to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Student athletes in high-risk sports such as football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse and rugby must have gotten the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the first day of competition in the fall, the city’s Public Schools Athletic League says.

Students in winter and spring sports must be vaccinated by the beginning of their seasons. The mandate also applies to all coaches and athletic staff, including athletic directors.

Earlier this month, Hawaii required all student-athletes, athletic staff, and volunteers to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 24. State officials also delayed the beginning of the fall athletic season to that deadline to give the students and adults a chance to get their shots.

The vaccination requirement recognizes that participation in extracurricular athletic programs is a privilege, officials said.

“This decision was not made lightly because we know the important role athletics play in a well-rounded education, but we cannot jeopardize the health and safety of our students and communities,” said Keith Hayashi, Hawaii’s interim superintendent.”The alternative is canceling the season outright, which we don’t want to have to do.”

School closings tracker: Where districts are shutting down again due to COVID-19 outbreaks

Last week, Culver City USD in California became the first district in the U.S. to mandate vaccines for all eligible students.

Florida funding threats

Two Florida counties that have refused to drop their mask mandates were officially put on notice Friday by the state’s board of education.

If leaders of the Alachua and Broward county districts don’t discontinue the requirements within 48 hours, the two systems must provide the annual compensation of all school board members to Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran in the next two days.

Then, the Florida Department of Education will “withhold from state funds, on a monthly basis, an amount equal to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of the school board members who voted to impose the unlawful mask mandates until each district demonstrates compliance.”

Other sanctions may follow, the department warned.

Many other districts in Florida—one of the nation’s worst COVID hotspots—have mandated masks but most have allowed parents to opt out.

President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona this week vowed to come to the defense of school officials who are punished by their states over mask mandates.

Cardona has been directed to use federal power, including taking legal action, against governors “who are trying to block and intimidate local school officials and educators.”

Biden also said the American Rescue Plan could be used to cover any funding cut from districts.

Texas schools win a mask battle

In Texas, school superintendents battling their governor over mask mandates won a pair of significant legal victories late this week.

The Texas Supreme Court left in place a lower court’s temporary restraining orders against Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban, The Texas Tribune reported. 

A student in Harlingen ISD in Texas works on a project. Superintendents in the state now have more leeway to mandate masks.

A student in Harlingen ISD in Texas works on a project. Superintendents in the state now have more leeway to mandate masks.

And an appeals court reaffirmed an order allowing districts in the San Antonio area to mandate masks, according to the San Antonio Report.

Elsewhere, another state, Connecticut, required that all teachers and other schools staff get vaccinated against COVID by the end of September.

“I have emphasized for well over a year the importance of keeping our kids in the classroom, full-time, and making sure it is as safe an environment as possible for learning for everyone in the school building,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement. “Ensuring all of our educators, including early childhood educators, and school staff are vaccinated will keep students in the classroom.”

A number of districts, mostly in the south and midwest, shut down completely or closed buildings due to COVID outbreaks or a large number of staff and students in quarantine.

More from DA