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Howard County to require proof of COVID vaccination or weekly testing for public high school athletes

Howard County public schools plan to require all high school student-athletes to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or undergo weekly testing in order to participate in school-sponsored winter athletics.

The new policy is among several changes announced recently to the vaccine and weekly testing requirements implemented at the start of the school year in an effort to maintain healthy and safe learning environments for staff, students and teachers.

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“I like the idea of having some method in place sanctioned by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to protect our student-athletes, coaches, parents and supporters,” said Walt Hagins, girls basketball coach at Oakland Mills High School. “I’m careful not to want to infringe on anyone’s free choice but do believe that some requirement is necessary prior to us competing and engaging in the sports that we love.”

The new requirement for athletes will begin Nov. 15 at the start of the 2021-22 season’s winter athletics practices.

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Fully vaccinated student-athletes who wish to participate in winter athletics and do not wish to undergo weekly testing should provide vaccine verification no later than Nov. 11.

The school system said proof of vaccination includes a scan or photo of the vaccine card provided by the administering health organization or documentation from ImmuNet, the state of Maryland’s immunization information system. These may be submitted online, emailed to the school’s athletics and activities manager or dropped off to that manager in person.

Testing for student-athletes who have not confirmed vaccination will begin Nov. 12.

All paid and volunteer coaches for winter athletics also must provide proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing, according to the school system.

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“We are confident that with the already high rates of vaccinated Howard County residents between the ages of 12 to 17, this effort will provide an additional layer of protection as athletics move indoors and participants are not masked,” school system spokesperson Brian Bassett said Monday.

Other changes announced last week by the school system include vaccine and screening requirements for extracurricular activities, full- and part-time staff, in-school service providers, school-sponsored events, school visitors, volunteers and classroom observers.

Extracurricular activities

Vaccine verification or testing will not be required for student participants or spectators for other voluntary extracurricular activities that occur beyond the school day such as clubs, concerts and plays. Spectators at winter athletic events also will not be required to show vaccination proof or a negative test.

Universal masking will be required and social distancing, when appropriate, will be in place for indoor school activities.

School-sponsored events

Activities that occur before and after school and are approved by school administrators may occur with visitors without a vaccine or testing requirement.

The universal masking requirement will remain in place for all participants.

School visitors

Visitors will not be not permitted to attend events that occur indoors or outdoors during the school day such as activities associated with American Education Week, assemblies, field days and spelling bees, effective Oct. 11.

Visitors who enter the school for a brief visit to pick up or drop off their child or for other reasons that do not involve interaction with students are not required to show proof of vaccination or testing; however, they are required to be masked regardless of their vaccination status.

Staff members, volunteers

As previously announced, all full- and part-time staff are required to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or undergo weekly testing.

The staff testing program will begin the week of Oct. 11 and will include 12 testing sites located at each high school.

Staff who have not confirmed their vaccination status will be expected to be tested at one of these locations or at any other public or private testing location and provide results once per week.

Contracted staff who work for before- and after-school care and other service providers such as bus drivers also will be required to get a vaccine or be tested.

All volunteers who interact with students and classroom observers will be required to show proof of vaccination to enter a school.

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