AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance for COVID-19 safety in schools in the past week, including a few suggestions on how schools might limit extracurricular activities like sports, choir, or band.

The CDC suggested that schools in areas of high transmission either cancel or hold high-risk sports and extracurricular activities virtually “to protect in-person learning.” Such measures were suggested in a published table within other guidelines for school COVID-19 prevention.

According to the CDC notes, “High-risk extracurricular activities are those in which increased exhalation occurs, such as activities that involve singing, shouting, band, or exercise, especially when conducted indoors.”

1 Levels of community transmission defined as total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days (low, 0-9; moderate 10-49; substantial, 50-99, high, ≥100) and percentage of positive tests in the past 7 days (low, <5%; moderate, 5-7.9%; substantial, 8-9.9%; high, ≥10%.)

Some of those “high risk” sports given as examples by the CDC were football and wrestling. Meanwhile, examples given of “low-risk” sports were diving and golf. Baseball and cross country were noted as “intermediate-risk” sports examples.

MyHighPlains.com reached out to both the Amarillo Independent School District and Canyon Independent School District regarding their current COVID-19 safety policies for extracurricular activities, as well as to ask if any changes to those policies could be expected due to the guidelines update.

Amarillo Independent School District

As of Jan. 19, there had not yet been a response from Amarillo ISD to inquiries from MyHighPlains.com on the subject, though the district previously published COVID-19 risk mitigation guidelines on its website. While those guidelines were regarding the 2020-21 school year and not the current 2021-22 year, a hyperlink on the page redirects users to the most recently updated TEA COVID-19 guidelines.

However, the TEA guidelines published by the agency and linked to by Amarillo ISD specifically covered “Non-UIL extracurricular sports and activities” in its suggestions. While the TEA had the legal authority to publish requirements for how public school systems may continue to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, UIL activities did not appear to be impacted.

While activities such as Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H would be subject to TEA guidance, Amarillo ISD appeared to predominantly participate in UIL extracurricular activities according to available website information.

Canyon Independent School District

Canyon ISD responded to MyHighPlains.com inquiries on Tuesday, with Communications Coordinator John Forbis issuing a statement.

“Canyon ISD Athletics follows the guidance of the University Interscholastic League (UIL),” said the statement, “CISD did contact UIL to inquire of any expected changes and UIL confirmed that no changes are expected at this time.”

Regarding extracurricular activities specifically, the district referred MyHighPlains.com to the UIL COVID-19 Mitigation Guidelines.

Generally, as of Jan. 5, 2022, Canyon ISD updated its COVID-19 quarantine information for students and employees. Further, the district has active forms for reporting positive cases of COVID-19 among its members.

University Interscholastic League (UIL)

The 2021-2022 UIL COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Guidelines published on the UIL website were last updated on Tuesday, at the time of reporting. While UIL recommended that public school systems “consult with their local public health authorities and local legal counsel” regarding implementing its policies, the listed guidance covered required COVID-19 case reporting, masking and face covering, students who have COVID-19, students and staff who are close contacts, and spectator guidance.

Although UIL noted that schools should follow TEA Public Health Guidance on most points regarding extracurricular activities, there were no obvious notes on when or if a school district should cancel activities or switch to a virtual format. However, the UIL guidelines did advise that students who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 receive clearance from a physician or physician-approved delegate before returning to UIL marching band or athletic activities.

‘So, what?’ | Next steps and other guidance

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues and policies from a local to the federal level adapt to the progressing situation, a few key takeaways from the assorted guidance updates for schools include:

  • Neither Amarillo ISD nor Canyon ISD indicated to MyHighPlains.com that UIL sports and activities would be cancelled or moved to a virtual format, as of Jan. 19.
  • The UIL COVID-19 policies advise schools to follow TEA COVID-19 guidance.
  • The TEA COVID-19 guidance, even when not doing so as binding policy, promoted the latest best practices for prevention and mitigation by the CDC.
  • The CDC has continued to emphazise “layered prevention strategies” in schools including the promotion of vaccination and indoor mask wearing for all, as well as regular testing and physical distancing of at least three feet.
    • The CDC also recommends that communities monitor transmission rates, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and outbreak occurrances in order to guide decisions on the level of prevention and mitigation strategies.

This story is developing. Check with MyHighPlains.com for updates.