coronavirus in connecticut

Vaccinated Student-Athletes Will Be Allowed to Unmask for Games

School administrators say publicly identifying a student’s vaccination status through a visible marker like a mask may be a violation of their privacy.

Beginning December 23, masks will become optional for vaccinated student-athletes, per the Connecticut Public Health Department’s latest guidance to school districts.   

School administrators say publicly identifying a student’s vaccination status through a visible marker like a mask may be a violation of their privacy.

“Ever since this pandemic began we never said a student is this or a student is that, whether they were quarantined or whether they were a positive contact,” explained Vernon School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Macary.

He added that the state’s stance on masks for student-athletes puts districts in the position of potentially stigmatizing students and legal liability.

“There’s definitely a possibility of legal action on this,” said Macary. “I think we’re all frustrated because we’re getting mixed guidance.”

In the past week, both the Ellington and Vernon school boards sent letters to the Connecticut Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manitha Juthani, asking her to revise the guidance to either require all student-athletes be masked or make it fully optional.  

The director of the North Central District Health Department, Patrice Sulik, said the number of COVID-19 cases in the area is significantly higher than the state average of 44 per 100,000, sitting at more than 61 per 100,000 on December 15.

“Now, with the current case rate we’re experiencing, personally, I would like to see them all be masked while they’re playing sports,” she said, noting that they’ve traced a dozen cases to student athletics since the start of the school year.

“Right now, in all the PE classes, every student, whether you’re vaccinated or not, has to wear a mask, in all the practices every student has to wear a mask, so why at the games would you make that differentiation?” questioned Macary.

The governor said the state has no plans to change its recommendation.

“To keep playing safely you’ve got to get vaccinated.  That’s what the coaches said and I agree with them,” said Gov. Ned Lamont.

“Whether you’re vaccinated or not is your decision. That is not our decision. It’s not mandated that all students be vaccinated,” said Macary.

In its own letter to the state, the Ellington school district said the policy will make students a target. Leaders there fear this policy change will only deepen the divide.

According to Lucas Johnson, a high school senior in Danielson, unvaccinated students are already being ostracized for their status.

“Students who are not vaccinated are painted as socially irresponsible,” said Johnson, founder of Connecticut Students for Liberty.  “The policy, the way it is written right now, stigmatizes and segregates students.”

Ellington school leaders said they are concerned that the state Department of Education is also considering adopting similar policy guidance for the classroom.  Lamont said on Thursday those plans have been put on pause.

“I was hoping we’d be able to relax that soon but we have a spike up here in Connecticut.  So, it’ll have to keep going at least a little bit longer,” said Lamont.

Macary said the district does not maintain the vaccination status of its students and would have to ask the nurse to give the athletic director and coaches each athlete’s vaccination status to comply with the state’s recommendation.

“I don’t think it’s a responsibility of the school district to hold that or to hold people accountable if they get vaccinated or not,” said Macary.  “This is crossing a line.”

Instead, Macary said the district will continue to require all student-athletes to wear masks regardless of vaccination status until the state makes masks completely optional for everyone regardless of vaccination status.

Macary said Juthani did not respond to the district's letter to the Department of Public Health. She did not respond to NBC Connecticut's request for comment on the story.

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