Parents question why Austin ISD varsity sports continue, but other extracurriculars suspended

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parents are calling for equity when addressing extracurricular shutdowns at school districts across central Texas.

District administrators are taking a hard look at sports and other school-sponsored events when deciding protocol for the upcoming spring semester. This comes as public health officials have continually warned COVID-19 transmission is most often occurring not in the school building itself, but in the extracurricular activities the students participate in.

In the Austin Independent School District, Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde told families over winter break school classes would resume as normal beginning this week, but all extracurriculars, aside from varsity sports, would be suspended.

A new update confirmed on Monday by the district is that all sub-varsity sports would be allowed to continue beginning January 11. Added protocols also include a required verbal COVID-19 screening from each athlete prior to each game and practice as well as limited, and in some cases no, spectators allowed.

“Please know that safety continues to be our top priority. If there is a surge in cases at any of our campuses or facilities, we can and will close as the need arises,” Elizalde wrote last Thursday. “As always, thank you to our students, families, staff and the entire Austin community for your flexibility, understanding and grace during this time.”

Some parents argue this shows an unfair bias towards athletics and are demanding equity for the students who are passionate in other subject areas. AISD mom Kelly Ruxer, who has three children in district, including one high schooler in the Bowie High School orchestra, said this is a double standard and is hurtful to students with outside passions.

“I think it seems political. Sports have a tremendous amount of power,” Ruxer said. “Sometimes before academics, especially before the fine arts, but even academics, sports will be the factor upon which people make decisions about how the school is going to proceed.”

Ruxer said her child’s orchestra instructor follows health and safety protocols closely, including temperature checks, social distancing and form fill-outs. To her, this indefinite suspension of extracurriculars could spell out an end to the performing arts.

“The extracurriculars that we have been involved with that are not varsity sports are doing what they can to protect the public, to protect the students, and to salvage what little they have left of the school year,” Ruxer said.

KXAN has reached out to Austin ISD. We asked why some extracurriculars have been suspended while others, like sports, are allowed. We also wanted to know the latest timeline for when other extracurriculars may resume. The district did not respond to our request.

In the short-term Ruxer said she is assuring her kids that these changes are temporary and telling them that everyone must make sacrifices for the greater good.

Round Rock ISD sports

Other parents in the Round Rock Independent School District sounded off during public comment at a board of trustees meeting Monday morning. Many of them were interested in advocating on behalf of the athletes playing spring athletics.

They say spring sports, such as baseball and softball, are non-contact and thus, safe.

“Here’s a fun fact: there’s 90 feet between home and 1st base, and that’s 15 times the safe COVID distance,” one woman said.

“There’s no better source [of vitamin D] than being outside. And being physically active and being outdoors can relieve stress,” another said.

District officials reassured them there are no plans to suspend any spring athletics at any level, but the amount of fans will be limited.

“We had staff out at some of our baseball and softball facilities to mark off spots in the bleachers where people can sit. And those will be limited attendance at 50%,” said acting Superintendent Dr. Daniel Presley.

Presley said he is opposed to banning all spectators, claiming there is no evidence of transmission and the district has seen success in spacing out people in the stands. He did, however, say removing the student section from indoor basketball games has been helpful in to keeping students in line with mask-wearing protocols.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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