Schenectady City School District amends vaccine policy for spring athletes


SCHENECTADY — City school students seeking to participate in certain sports this spring will no longer be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 after the district’s Board of Education on Wednesday adopted a new vaccine policy for student athletes. 

In a 5-1 vote, the board moved to require only students participating in so-called “high-risk” sports be vaccinated against COVID, relaxing a policy adopted last October that required all students be vaccinated in order to participate in interscholastic athletics.

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Jamaica Miles was the lone dissent vote. Board Member Princella Learry was absent.

The change in policy would require only those seeking to play boys’ contact lacrosse be fully vaccinated before participating. Girls lacrosse is classified as a non-contact sport and is considered “moderate-risk” under state guidelines.

Other spring sports offered by the district, including baseball and softball, are considered moderate risk, while tennis and track and field are considered low-risk under state guidelines.

The updated policy includes a provision that allows the district to amend the policy based on new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York state Department of Health.

Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. said the new policy puts the district in alignment with neighboring school districts that have no vaccine requirement in place but takes into consideration concerns about transmission through high-risk sports.

“We wanted to draw more alignment with the policies but this does give us the flexibility … to have the conversation again,” he said.

But Miles raised concerns that the policy did not go far enough to protect student health and said there should be a provision included that would require students to wear a mask without the board having to revisit the subject in the event COVID numbers spike.

She noted that the board’s previous decision to require COVID vaccines for athletes — which Miles voted in favor of as part of a 4-3 vote — prevented many students from competing, but the decision was made in the interest of safety using the best available data.

Miles also questioned why the board did not take action to loosen the vaccine mandate when several basketball coaches raised concerns that students were being left out, but seemed to act after a white parent last week said her child was at risk of losing out on a scholarship because her child was unable to compete because they were unvaccinated.

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“It seems as if we’re moving in a direction based on race and not giving enough weight to how are we going to ensure their safety moving forward without having to come back for a discussion,” she said.

Board Member Ann Reilly said the change is due to spring athletes, who mostly practice and compete outdoors, are at a lesser risk for contracting the virus compared to those competing in indoor winter sports.

Soler added that guidance around the virus is fluid and having a more broad policy would allow the district to easily adapt without falling out of alignment of the current guidance.

“That’s the tough piece. At least it gives me the requirement to basically stay aligned to the guidance as it comes from the CDC and New York state DOH,” he said.

The change in policy comes just weeks after New York state dropped a policy requiring students to where a mask while in school and participating in athletics amid a dramatic drop in new COVID cases following the winter omicron surge.

Schenectady County currently has a high transmission rate of the virus, averaging 96 cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, according to CDC data.

The county, however, is considered low on the agency’s COVID level communities, which takes into consideration the number of new hospitalizations and hospital beds available. The county has seen three new COVID-related hospitalizations per 100,000 residents in the last seven days and has 2.3% of available hospital beds devoted to COVID patients during that same period.

An average of 20 or more individuals per 100,000 would need to be hospitalized in a seven-day period and 15% or hospital beds would need to be occupied by COVID patients before the county reaches a high COVID level community, according to the CDC.

Schenectady had one of the most stringent vaccine requirements for athletes in the region.

While Niskayuna and Albany school districts adopted policies last year requiring athletes playing high-risk sports to be vaccinated last fall and winter seasons, Schenectady’s requirement mandated all athletes seeking to participate in fall, winter and spring sports be vaccinated, similar to the one adopted by the Bethlehem Central School District.

The new policy takes effect immediately.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

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Categories: News, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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