Montgomery County student-athletes who participate in spring sports can bypass a COVID-19 vaccination requirement if they object on the basis of their religious beliefs — an exemption that was not available to athletes in winter programs.

During a school board meeting on Tuesday, Montgomery County Public Schools officials said they are considering adding a religious exemption to the vaccine requirement for spring sports, but did not elaborate.

In a community message on Friday, MCPS wrote that religious exemptions would be accepted “because of the decreasing COVID-19 community transmission rate, coupled with Montgomery County’s high vaccination rate.”

In the winter, student-athletes had to have either been vaccinated against COVID-19 or a documented medical exemption.

MCPS announced in September that it would have a vaccination requirement for athletics programs.

Many of the sports, like wrestling and basketball, are considered “high risk” for virus transmission, and the objective is to limit the spread of COVID-19 in athletics programs and, ultimately, the schools, Director of Systemwide Athletics Jeff Sullivan said at the time.

The mandate drew skepticism and confusion from many in the community who noted that the requirement is stricter than what is required of employees, who can instead opt for weekly testing and cite religious beliefs as a reason to not get a shot.

In November, MCPS spokesman Chris Cram said that athletes are more often exposed to “forced exhalation,” which increases the risk of virus transmission.

“​​Religious exemptions are not being permitted due to the direct threat of COVID-19 transmission to the health and safety of student-athletes and staff in close-contact sporting events and activities,” Cram wrote in an email at the time.

He could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

The MCPS employee mandate originally did not include the option for religious exemptions. Shortly after it was passed, an unnamed administrative employee filed a federal lawsuit saying the mandate violated his religious freedoms.

Within days, the school district sent messages to employees saying religious exemptions would be honored. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com