Fairfax County Public Schools will require student-athletes to be vaccinated in order to play winter and spring sports in the Virginia High School League (VHSL) — a mandate that follows similar policies around the country.
The district says athletes must show proof of vaccination if they want to participate in the following sports: basketball, gymnastics, cheerleading, indoor and outdoor track and field, swim and dive, wrestling, rifle, baseball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis and crew. The requirement also affects other activities that require a physical, like dance or step teams.
The rule will go into effect Nov. 8.
“Vaccinating our students is a critical step in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and minimizing any disruption to learning,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a statement. “The majority of pauses to instruction for our high school students come as a result of exposure during athletic activities, which the Virginia Department of Education classifies as a high-risk activity.
“These pauses impact participation in activities and in-person learning while the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) investigates and determines close contacts and next steps.”
Fairfax isn’t the only district to issue such a requirement. Last week, New York City officials announced that high school students and staff who want to participate in “high-risk” sports such as basketball must be at least partially vaccinated in order to play.
According to the New York Times, the mandate affects roughly 20,000 students and staff — or half of the city’s Public School Athletic League. Participants (i.e. athletes and coaches) must have at least one dose of the vaccine by the time their sport begins.
New York’s announcement followed a measure in Hawaii — which enacted a vaccine mandate for its high school athletes. Other cities to have such policies include New Orleans and Culver City, California. The latter instituted a broad vaccine mandate for all students above the age of 12.
In Colorado, the Aurora Public Schools district has said that if student-athletes aren’t vaccinated, then they still must be tested regularly for the virus. Students participating in sports must show they’ve tested negative once every two weeks.
Some school districts have shown little interest in putting forth such a requirement. According to the Portland Press Herald in Maine, multiple superintendents said such requirements would have to come from the state. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont told the Hartford Courant last week that a vaccine mandate for athletes was not under consideration.
Brabrand said in the statement that a total of 75.4% of Fairfax County students between ages 16 and 18 have been fully vaccinated. That number jumps to 85.7% when including those who have just one dose of the vaccine. Brabrand said the school district would work with students to help get them the vaccine.
According to Fairfax County’s COVID-19 dashboard, there have been 135 cases — 116 of which were students, 19 of which were staff — of coronavirus since in-person learning resumed on Aug. 23.
“While we know this is a difficult decision for some families, it is an essential step that we must take to limit the duration of a pause, getting students back to the classroom and their activities sooner, but still safely,” Brabrand said. “We will share more information in the coming weeks on how to provide proof of vaccination and vaccination opportunities for students.
A Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson told The Washington Times the requirement would have exemptions on “the grounds of religion and health.”