S.D. Unified School District requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for sports and other extracurricular activities
The district also plans to shut down all non-essential and out-of-season activities such as offseason conditioning.
As COVID-19 coronavirus cases spike around the county, the San Diego Unified School District said it is requiring vaccinations for all students participating in extracurricular activities, including sports.
The change was announced in a memo sent this week from the district to its 16 high school athletic directors. It also said testing would be required for student-athletes participating in indoor sports.
Last month a judge struck down the district’s COVID-19 student vaccination mandate, saying it conflicts with state law. The mandate would have forced unvaccinated students 16 and older to learn remotely via independent study starting Jan. 24.
Scott Giusti, SDUSD’s director of physical education, health and athletics, said the district’s interpretation is that the ruling applies only to the school day, not extracurricular activities such as athletics, cheer, band and drama.
“We’re trying to keep winter activities going, trying to make sure our athletes/students have a great experience,” Giusti said. “We’re trying to keep everyone safe.”
But Arie Spangler, legal counsel for the group Let Them Breathe, whose lawsuit by offshoot Let Them Choose led to the Dec. 20 ruling by San Diego County Superior Court Judge John Meyer, said: “We think what San Diego Unified is trying to do is completely illegal. Judge Meyer has already ruled and it doesn’t just cover certain classes of students.”
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The district also said in its memo that shutting down all non-essential and out-of-season activities would be required.
Giusti said some people “interpreted that as meaning we were shutting down winter athletics. We are not shutting down athletics or any other extracurricular activity this winter.”
What SDUSD is doing is requiring out-of-season activities — football weightlifting, baseball and softball conditioning, band or cheer practice for a competition in April — to pause for three weeks.
“Coming off the holiday break, we anticipated a crescendo in COVID-19 cases,” Giusti said. “As soon as it’s safe, those out-of-season activities can resume. We’re not talking about an extended shutdown period.
“We wanted to be cautious, but nothing has changed as far as in-season sports. Certainly there are challenges at our school sites, but the schools are doing a good job of keeping their students safe.”
Several schools in San Diego County paused basketball activities over the holidays amid COVID-19 concerns.
Meanwhile, many school districts have been reporting significantly higher student and staff absences, with some schools struggling to find enough staff to cover all their classes.
In San Diego Unified, 16 percent of students were absent Jan. 3, the district’s first day back from winter break, according to district spokesman Mike Murad. That compares with a 7 percent absentee rate about the same time in 2020, before COVID. About 11 percent of educators were absent Jan. 3.
The situation is bad largely because many school staff members are testing positive for the coronavirus and have to miss school, said Kisha Borden, president of the San Diego Unified teachers union.
“The schools are facing what many industries are facing during this Omicron surge. Just as flights are being canceled, classes are being canceled because there is no one to take the place of sick teachers,” Borden said.
Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state public health department would be sending schools one or two rapid coronavirus tests for every public school student. Many schools are relying on coronavirus testing as a key strategy to help minimize its spread, particularly the recent Omicron variant.
In San Diego Unified, students were supposed to use the tests at home during winter break and return to school if they tested negative, but stay home if they tested positive.
The state sent at-home tests to some districts and charter schools directly, without going through county education offices, before the winter break.
San Diego Unified was among a minority of San Diego County districts and charter schools that got the test kits early. The state delivered 308,260 at-home tests to area schools in December, before winter break, out of 2 million tests sent statewide, state officials said.
San Diego Unified distributed 98,000 kits to students, each containing two tests. From those, the district received 1,748 positive test results, the district said.
The state’s delivery of test kits to many other districts was delayed by winter storms and other shipping issues, state officials said.