ALBANY — The New York State Education Department’s health and safety guide for the 2021-22 school year, released Thursday, includes recommendations that schools cancel “high” risk sports in areas with high community transmission of the novel coronavirus, unless all participants involved are fully vaccinated.
The measures suggested in the guide — which also include COVID-19 testing for student-athletes and a provision that fully vaccinated people can refrain from a quarantine following exposure to the novel coronavirus if they are asymptomatic — are not mandates from the state Education Department, but recommendations that individual districts may choose to follow.
Practice for fall sports is scheduled to begin Aug. 23. For the fall season, football, volleyball and competitive cheer are considered “high” risk sports by the state Department of Health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker, seven counties within Section II — Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga, Schoharie, Montgomery, Rensselaer and Warren — were listed with high rates of community COVID transmission as of Thursday evening.
New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director Robert Zayas issued a statement through the association’s social media Thursday, acknowledging receipt of the guide.
“We encourage our member schools to utilize this document and consult with local health departments as they plan for the 2021-22 fall interscholastic athletic season scheduled to begin on August 23rd,” Zayas said in the statement. “NYSPHSAA will continue working with state officials to ensure athletes have a safe and successful academic and athletic school year.”
In an interview with The Daily Gazette last week, prior to the release of the NYSED recommendations, Zayas called 2021-22 “the most anticipated school year” as the NYSPHSAA hoped to progress with a school year of sports largely unaffected by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which forced the cancellation of all state and regional championship events since mid-March 2020 and necessitated a radically-altered sports calendar for the 2020-21 academic year that pushed “high” risk sports into times of the year when conditions related to the pandemic had eased.
When reached by phone Thursday evening, Zayas reiterated that NYSED’s guide wasn’t binding, and was “basically a recommendation in high-risk areas for unvaccinated students.”
“I just think everybody’s fearful that we’re going to return back to the way we were a year ago,” Zayas said. “We’re in a drastically different situation than we were one year ago, where we were prohibited from playing ‘high’ risk sports last year. That is not what was released today. Our schools are going to work with their local department of health to determine how high school athletics can be administered. I just think everybody needs to take a deep breath.”
Section II executive director Ed Dopp did not return messages seeking comment Thursday.