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Athletes must be vaccinated or get tested weekly at VBCPS

Students in winter sports or off-season conditioning will need to be fully vaccinated by November 8 or participate in weekly testing starting then.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Get vaccinated or get tested. That's the latest directive for high school student-athletes in Virginia Beach. 

Two other local school divisions also approved similar rules. 

"We are at a high level of community transmission, a high level," said Dr. Nancy Welch, the acting director for the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health. "But the Virginia Beach schools are at a low level."

School administrators attributed that to their layered approach in preventing the spread of COVID-19, including mask-wearing, physical distancing, and contact tracing. 

Chief Operations Officer Jack Freeman said, "We will continue to emphasize the importance of adhering to our prevention measures and to make adjustments to improve safety for our students and staff."

One adjustment is a new rule for high school students in winter sports or off-season conditioning. Freeman made the announcement at a workshop Tuesday, on behalf of the administration.  

Proof of a complete vaccination must be provided by November 8. If a student-athlete chooses to not get vaccinated, they will have to take part in weekly tests throughout the duration of their sport. 

VBCPS said the testing will be offered through the school division and at no cost to students or families.

In a statement, VBCPS said, "We believe these actions will stem the number of COVID-19 cases that arise from athletic activities and reduce the amount of time our student-athletes are out of the classroom."

Chief of Schools Dr. Gene Soltner said the division decided on this policy because of the number of children who missed class because they had to quarantine.

“We’ve had 51 positive cases in our athletics, but it is not the 51 positive cases that caused us to reexamine or taken a closer look at what we are doing," Dr. Soltner said. “If I conservatively take the number of days instruction missed due to the 223 kids who were quarantined or isolation, we’re talking about 1,561 days of missed instruction... that is our compelling reason.”

But not everyone is on board with this new policy. Parent, Becky Hay said she thinks the school is overstepping boundaries.  

“I think parents ultimately have responsibility for their children so they’re the ones who should make that decision," Hay said. “We are putting these decisions in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, instead not even people that are directly accountable to the voters, instead of leaving it primarily with the families who have to make these choices.” 

Chief of Staff Dr. Don Robertson is stressing parents can decide for themselves.

“What I would like parents to know is, they have a choice," Dr. Robertson said. “If they’re uncomfortable with the vaccination process for whatever reason then we’ve secured a partnership with the VDH through their K-12 testing program to offer weekly screening, free of charge, in the school setting.” 

So far, 9.3% of their athletes have been required to quarantine. That's compared to 2% for all students, according to data presented Tuesday. 

"When athletes are vaccinated, their teams are generally not affected because they are no longer considered close contacts if they are asymptomatic and vaccinated," said Chief Schools Officer Dr. Eugene Soltner. 

"Especially for those who will play indoors this winter, it's a good idea to have either a shot or be tested regularly," said School Board Member Beverly Anderson.

Two other members expressed similar sentiments to Anderson, but not everyone supports the new rule. 

"I think this is huge government intrusion," said School Board Member Victoria Manning about medical freedom. "I'm also vehemently opposed to administration making this decision rather than the board."

"I'm just bothered by this. This is abusive," said School Board Member Laura Hughes.

However, health leaders continue to advocate for the vaccine and its effectiveness.

The school division said they have been working with the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health to come up with safety measures for their schools and will continue to do so during the school year.

VBCPS is continuing to offer vaccination clinics for staff, students, and their families. Those dates, locations, and times are below. 

Week of Sept. 27
First shot, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Bayside High School Wednesday, Sept. 29
Kempsville Middle School Thursday, Sept. 30

Week of Oct. 4
First shot, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Tallwood High School Wednesday, Oct. 6
First Colonial High School Thursday, Oct. 7

Week of Oct. 11
Second shot, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Green Run High School Monday, Oct. 11
Tallwood High School Wednesday, Oct. 13
Bayside Middle School Thursday, Oct. 14    

Week of Oct. 18
Second shot, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
First Colonial High School Monday, Oct. 18
Bayside High School Wednesday, Oct. 20
Kempsville Middle School Thursday, Oct. 21

Week of Oct. 25
Second shot, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Tallwood High School Wednesday, Oct. 27
First Colonial High School Thursday, Oct. 28