Texas to delay high school football for big schools amid coronavirus pandemic

Texas, which began the first phase of its reopening amid the novel coronavirus pandemic on May 1, well before most other states, has seen a sizable increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, straining health care systems in the state’s urban centers. In late June, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) paused the state’s reopening plan during the rise in cases, shutting down bars, limiting indoor dining in restaurants and issuing a statewide mandate requiring Texans to wear masks in public in any county with 20 or more positive covid-19 cases.

“This plan provides a delay for schools in highly-populated metro areas, primarily conferences 5A-6A, given the challenges with COVID-19 those communities are facing, while providing schools in other areas, primarily 1A-4A, an opportunity to start seasons on schedule,” the UIL said in a statement. “Acknowledging the situation is not always clear-cut and that COVID-19 affects every community differently, the plan also allows for local flexibility and encourages districts to plan for possible interruptions in order to complete district seasons.”

“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools,” UIL Executive Director Charles Breithaupt said in the statement. “While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread.”

Earlier this month, Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told MSNBC that he doubted football could be played in Texas, where the sport takes on supreme importance at the high school level.

“That’s a true contact sport, I don’t see how we can pull that off. There’s been some discussion of moving it to the spring, but we’ll have to wait and see. I don’t, I seriously doubt that we can pull that off,” Hinojosa said.

Officials with the Texas Education Agency initially told school districts that they must open for in-person instruction but have since backed off that demand, giving districts more flexibility for remote learning. Last week, Dallas County schools announced that the school year will begin with remote learning through at least Sept. 7 and that all school-sponsored clubs and sports will not take place until on-campus instruction resumes. The UIL listed Sept. 7 as the first day that football teams from the state’s larger schools may begin practice.

However, as noted by the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Independent School District has seven schools at the smaller Class 4A or 3A levels. Under UIL’s new guidelines, those schools can begin football practices on the regularly scheduled date but, under district policy, they will not be allowed to practice until on-campus instruction begins.

The UIL allowed high school teams to resume in-person workouts June 8, but at least 215 schools have had to suspend those workouts either because players tested positive or the community had seen a spike in cases, the Morning News reports.

On Monday, California’s high school athletics association announced that sports in that state, including football, will be paused until December or January because of the pandemic. High school athletic officials in Florida, meanwhile, voted Monday to maintain the current schedule while also giving schools a chance to opt out. Georgia, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia have delayed fall high school sports; New Mexico, Virginia and the District of Columbia will not play football in the fall.