All Philadelphia School District athletes must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, officials have announced.
The decision, which allows for approved medical or religious exemptions, applies to any student participating in sports for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year, and was based on recommendations from city health officials, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, and other sports and health organizations, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said.
Those who do not provide proof of inoculation or qualify for an exemption will not be able to participate until they’re fully vaccinated.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting the health and well-being of students and staff has been our top priority,” Hite said in a statement. “Requiring student athletes to get fully vaccinated will reduce the need to quarantine teams, which will also prevent the cancellation of games, practices and potentially entire seasons.”
The mandate takes effect for athletes participating in winter sports, including basketball, bowling, cheerleading, indoor track, swimming, and wrestling. These students must be vaccinated by Dec. 18.
It also includes spring sports: badminton, baseball, lacrosse, softball, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. Those students must show proof of vaccination by March 1.
Until the winter and spring deadlines, unvaccinated athletes will be able to play if they are twice weekly tested for COVID-19. If they remain unvaccinated after the deadline, they will be excluded from sports.
The district said it will hold information sessions about the new requirements.
“Vaccines are a very effective way to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and we believe our student athletes will continue to do their part to protect themselves and their teammates from COVID-19 infection by getting vaccinated,” said Barbara Klock, the district’s chief medical officer. “We want to keep our players on the courts and fields and this is the way to achieve that.”
School District employees must also be vaccinated, but those hired before the mandate can opt to be COVID-19 tested twice a week if they don’t get vaccinated. About 80% of district staff has been vaccinated, according to district figures.