Get vaccinated or sit out the season.
Fairfax County Public Schools will require many high school athletes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting later this fall, in a first-of-its-kind rule for Virginia and the D.C. area.
Any student participating in Virginia High School League winter and spring sports, plus any other activity that requires a physical, will be required to show proof of vaccination starting Nov. 8, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced Monday.
The requirement is an effort to keep students safe and schools running as normal, Brabrand told families.
“Vaccinating our students is a critical step in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and minimizing any disruption to learning. 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,” Brabrand said in a message.
FCPS parent Erica Torres said her teen daughter is not vaccinated and because of the requirement will not run track this year.
“She will not be getting vaccinated specifically for sports. If I decide to get her vaccinated, it's going to be for health reasons, and that's the bottom line,” Torres said.
FCPS student athletics director Bill Curran said he received many phone calls on Monday about the plan, as officials still worked out the details.
Two of the biggest questions were “Why sports?” and “Why now?”
The requirement comes now because the Food and Drug Administration recently gave full-use authorization to the Pfizer vaccine to anyone 16 and older. As for why sports, Curran pointed to sports as optional.
“With sports being extracurricular and a choice, it's not a mandatory piece. There is no credit assigned to athletics. It gives that ability to say, ‘Let's start with this group,’” he said.
It’s a group, though, that includes 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds who are not included in the FDA’s authorization.
FCPS couldn’t immediately say if 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds would be allowed to participate in athletics. They promised more details later this week.
The school district also was working to outline some exceptions for student athletes for health and religious reasons.
About 8,000 FCPS students participate in winter sports, officials said. About 75% of students 16, 17 and 18 years old already have received at least one shot.
While Fairfax County schools are the first in the region to announce a student athlete vaccine requirement, they’re unlikely to be the last.
FCPS officials had a call Monday with school officials from Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties, plus the city of Alexandria, to explain their process.
A spokesperson for Arlington County Schools said they are considering a similar requirement.