2021 | Schools

MCPS will require winter, spring athletes to be vaccinated against COVID-19

More details expected ‘in the coming weeks’

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Montgomery County Public Schools will require all of its student-athletes in winter or spring sports to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Many of the sports, like wrestling and basketball, are considered “high risk” of virus transition, Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight said while announcing the measure during a school board meeting on Thursday.

In an interview, Director of Systemwide Athletics Jeff Sullivan said the requirement is intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within the athletics programs and, ultimately, in schools.

“We’ve been very proud to kind of pave the way, in many respects, as we’ve returned to in-person activities, not just athletics, but also for MCPS as a whole,” Sullivan said. “It kind of goes hand-in-hand with what we like to do with athletics in general: We want to be an extension of the classroom, and we want our student athletes in our program to be on the cutting edge.”

Details — like whether students can be regularly tested instead of being vaccinated — are still being worked out, Sullivan said. More information is expected “in the coming weeks,” he said. A message sent to community members by MCPS on Thursday night said students who provide documentation of a medical condition that prevents them from being vaccinated will be exempt from the requirement.

The decision was made in conjunction with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. The group has been meeting each week since June 2020 to discuss precautions and guidelines for MCPS athletics, Sullivan said.

MCPS is not the first district in the region to mandate vaccinations for student-athletes.

The Baltimore City school system last week announced the same requirement for the winter and spring seasons. Nearby, Fairfax County Public Schools and Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia will also require vaccinations to participate in athletics.

Students not participating in athletics in the district are not required to be vaccinated.

The school board passed a resolution on Thursday requiring MCPS employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they have a medical exemption.

MCPS has reported at least one large COVID-19 outbreak related to its athletics programs. In August, Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg reported 26 positive cases in its school community, almost all related to its football program.

The outbreak was still listed on the state’s dashboard of active outbreaks as of the latest update on Wednesday.

About 28,000 middle and high school students across the district usually participate in sports throughout the year, Sullivan said.

In Montgomery County, 87.2% of people 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 96.1% have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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