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Hawaii public high schools to require student-athletes to get vaccinated for fall sports

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 8:15 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 4, 2021 at 5:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - All Hawaii public high schools will now require student-athletes and coaches to get vaccinated in order to participate in the upcoming fall sports season, the state Department of Education announced Wednesday.

As a result, the state is delaying the start of the season to late September.

The DOE said all student-athletes, athletics staff and volunteers will need to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 24 in order to participate.

“We opened the new school year this week with in-person learning and our highest priority is to ensure all students can continue to attend school safely,” interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi said, in a statement.

“This decision was not made lightly because we know the important role athletics play in a well-rounded education, but we cannot jeopardize the health and safety of our students and communities.”

The announcement comes after a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the state and the cancellation of two Oahu Interscholastic Association non-league football games — the 2021 prep football season was slated to start this Friday.

The vaccine requirements are the most sweeping yet impacting Hawaii students and come as employers and local government also consider mandates of their own.

Hayashi said the alternative to a vaccine requirement is canceling the season outright.

“We are implementing this layered plan that prioritizes vaccinations as the best way to protect against and reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19,” he said.

Teams will also not be allowed to practice until the start of the season.

The HHSAA has called an emergency board meeting for Friday, where a calendar for a shortened season that includes state tournaments will be discussed, executive director Chris Chun told Hawaii News Now.

“The first thing we will look at is a shortened calendar, probably keep all of the seasons intact, keep the state tournaments,” said Chun.

“I’m obviously disappointed to having to delay the start of the season. At the same time, I’m kind of encouraged that we still have a target date to resume.”

It’s yet another blow to prep sports in the islands as the sports impacted by the move haven’t competed since the 2019 season.

But one medical expert believes the delay is unnecessary.

Dr. Scott Miscovich, who has consulted on testing for collegiate, professional and Olympic sports, believes in vaccination.

But he said the DOE could safely start seasons on time by requiring COVID tests on the unvaccinated two or three times a week.

“I really think it’s time to get the kids back to sports,” Miscovich said.

He said many children can’t get the shots for medical reasons or their families oppose vaccination.

“Families may have issues that they are concerned about. And to say that their child can’t participate in sports, it does concern me,” he said.

School officials said students and their parents can apply for medical or religious exemptions with the appropriate documentation such as a letter from their doctor.

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