SCHENECTADY – A split Schenectady Board of Education enacted a mandate for all student athletes to be vaccinated by mid-November, a policy that could lend itself to a decrease in sports participants, according to initial feedback from some parents.
Carlos Cotto, Jr., the assistant superintendent for innovation, equity and engagement for the Schenectady City School District, said the Schenectady Athletics Department conducted outreach to families about COVID-19 vaccinations and other sports-related concerns.
Cotto said some parents are indifferent, while several parents stated they would pull their child from sports or activities if a vaccine is mandated.
The policy, which passed in a 4-3 vote Wednesday, is in accordance with guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Health.
It requires a first dose of a Moderna vaccine by Oct. 17 or a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine by Oct. 24. The second dose of either vaccine is to be administered by Nov. 14.
The policy is now in effect.
Board members Cathy Lewis, Ann Reilly, Erica Brockmyer, and Jamaica Miles voted yes, while Nohelani Etienne, Princella Learry, and Bernice Rivera voted no.
Lewis, the board president, said the board wasn’t taking the decision of whether or not to get vaccinated out of an individual student’s hands. Instead, it was setting policy for the community at large, and families could decide if they want the student to participate in a particular sport, or not, she said.
But Rivera maintained that a vaccination is a personal decision made by an individual and his or her family. Rivera said she didn’t believe the Board of Education’s role was to make that type of decision.
“I believe providing as much information about the COVID-19 vaccination to the community should be our primary goal to help families make an informed decision,” she said Thursday.
Superintendent Anibal Soler, Jr., said the district already restricts who can participate in sports by requiring immunizations for mumps.
Soler noted that the junior varsity football team had already been hamstrung by the virus. The district said the majority of the roster, 19 players, are under quarantine because of a recent exposure and their status of not being vaccinated. Soler called it “a heartbreaking development,” but through no fault of the players.
A district spokesperson said it’s the third time the bulk of the team had been under quarantine since the summer.
Prior to the vote, interim Schenectady County Public Health Director Keith Brown underscored what he said was a tough, localized decision for vaccinations.
Brown said the 18-and-older population accounts for an over 90% vaccination rate, which he said was “tremendous for a county like us.”
The total vaccination rate among all eligible people as a county was 75% with certain Schenectady zip codes (12307, 12305 and 12308) lagging behind, with rates in the 50% to 60% range.
Recently the county had around 300 active cases at any given point, of which about a third are of people under the age of 18. Last week for example, 87 cases were reported among people under the age of 18.
There are presently 45 active cases in the Schenectady City School District, Brown said.
Brown noted that, in the event of an exposure to the virus, a person who’s vaccinated does not have to quarantine unless he or she exhibits symptoms of the virus.
An exposure on a sports team where the majority of the players aren’t vaccinated would mean the team won’t be able to play if there’s a game coming up during the 10 days that those athletes are going to be quarantined, Brown said.
It’s the same concern for school plays, concerts or other extracurricular activities, he said.