As a new academic year begins this week amid a COVID-19 pandemic flareup fueled by the delta variant, it’s every school district for itself in Colorado regarding health policies for high school athletics.
Without the need to gain approval for specific statewide variances in order to conduct its seasons, the Colorado High School Activities Association is taking a different tack this year — one that’s considerably less involved.
And that hands-off approach, announced less than a week before the first fall sports practices began Monday, caught some school districts and local health agencies flat-footed.
“Local public health officials and local leaders will determine public health protocols for in-person learning and activity participation,” CHSAA stated in a news release sent out July 28. “Local public health officials and school districts have the autonomy to adopt stricter standards than the national and state recommendations based on the conditions in their area.”
In multiple instances, districts or health authorities assumed CHSAA was taking the lead on COVID-19 policies for high school sports in Colorado. Once fall sports began, they quickly realized that wasn’t the case.
District athletic directors are now turning to local health departments to put guidelines in place, but those departments, such as Mesa County Public Health, said that they are there only for “support and consultation as requested.”
In MCPH’s “Keeping Schools Open Plan,” the plan states that “all CHSAA sponsored events will continue to follow CHSAA safety guidelines,” but CHSAA’s clearly stated policy is for districts to direct all public health-related questions to local officials. The Tri-County Health Department had also been operating under the assumption CHSAA would establish health guidelines before being informed otherwise earlier this week, public affairs officer Melissa Sager said.
Mesa Valley County School District 51 met with local health officials Wednesday, Limon Public Schools will meet with theirs Aug. 9 and Cherry Creek School District is still “finalizing some plans,” a CCSD representative said.
Denver Public Schools, home to 43 high schools, is the largest public school district in the state.
“At this point, we have not finalized any details,” Karen Higel, Denver Public Schools’ athletic director, told The Denver Post this week. “We are hoping to move forward with the sports CHSAA offers.”
DPS released guidelines Tuesday regarding masking-and-health procedures for the upcoming school year. The release stated that masks will be required for all students, staff and faculty, regardless of vaccination status, but masks won’t be required outside. It didn’t specify if that requirement also applies to athletics and extracurriculars — particularly those played indoors, like volleyball.
Jeffco Public Schools, while not mandating masks for students 12 and older, has strongly recommended they be vaccinated and wear masks. But it also didn’t set sport-specific guidelines in a release sent out late last week.
In accordance with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, DPS won’t require quarantines for routine classroom exposures. It’ll be a case-by-case basis instead. Again, it didn’t specify how that applies to sports teams.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced Monday that city employees, health care and school staff within DPS will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 30 or receive mandatory COVID-19 tests twice a week.
According to Tri-County, there will be no requirements for sports teams during the 2021-22 school year. Instead, the department issued recommendations that teams and districts can choose to follow, Sager said.
Tri-County will become involved if there is an outbreak of the virus, meaning five or more people become infected. Outbreaks must be reported to the agency, which will conduct an investigation and work with teams and schools on mitigation efforts.
“It’s all very case-by-case,” Sager said. “In absence of requirements it really looks like all of our schools, all of our school communities are different — vastly different.”
For CHSAA state championship events later in the school year, health guidelines will be based on local health department policies where the competition occurs — the same policy the association put in place last year. CHSAA declined to go on the record outside of its official statement.
This content was originally published here.