District announces new Covid testing mandate for sports, extracurriculars


Ally Bliss

The new Covid testing mandate for students participating in sports and extracurricular activities has spurred controversy.

Lindsay Ruhl

Atlanta Public Schools announced on Jan. 21 that all students participating in sports and extracurricular activities must be tested twice a week. The announcement has prompted parent and staff responses.

According to APS, the protocol will be in effect as long as “the community spread level remains in the high category.” The mandate applies to students participating in sports and in extracurricular activities that are not associated with an enrolled class.

Before being allowed to participate in workouts, tryouts, practices or competitions for APS sports, students must submit a physical form, athletics waiver, concussion awareness form and a sudden cardiac arrest form.

“If you don’t test, you sit out,” Nurse Wanda Taylor said. “That’s what they do on professional teams. You haven’t given the medical information that assures you’re safe to play. They have to get physicals– very particular physicals now since kids are dying, having heart attacks and sorts of things. The parent does the physical so the child can play. This is a similar situation. It’s just a test.”

Taylor said the protocol should have been put in place a “long time ago.” She said she has seen more students getting tested this semester as compared to last semester.

“Every time there’s a large group of positives, it is from the athletic team,” Taylor said. “Wrestling, baseball, basketball, football, cheerleading – it’s always the athletic team that has the largest amount of contact. This is a test. It takes all of a minute. You have results in 15 minutes to know that you are not positive and you’re not going to infect anyone else. It’s a simple test that I think they should do.”

Parent Cecily Stevens does not support the mandate and said the testing wastes resources.

“I think that a school should not be mandating any medical testing,” Stevens said. “I feel that that is the role of the family. I just feel like it’s an overstep of the school. I think the time spent managing the testing program could be spent on other things like education or school safety. APS is not my child health care provider. It’s strange to make it mandatory for optional activities. But it’s optional for mandatory school.”

Stevens started a petition against the mandate the Monday after the statement was released. Since then, the petition has gained 140 signatures. She also wrote a guest column for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“I’ve found some other Midtown and APS families who actually feel the same way as me, but I know that we are a minority,” Stevens said. “There’s parents who agree with me, and we just feel like, for the overall mental health of our kids, and just for the sake of growing up, that it’s time to get back to normal– real normal.”

Music teacher Kevin Hill is the music coordinator for the upcoming play “Mamma Mia.” The students participating in the play will have to be tested weekly.

“I think this new testing mandate is fair,” Hill said. “It’s reasonable. It’s taking the safe route, which it should be. I don’t see a downside to this at all. It’s a safe thing to do to keep kids safe. It’s a pandemic. Err on the side of safety.”

Stevens believes the district should stop all Covid protocols, including masks.

“I would like the district just to stop all Covid protocols personally, because I feel like with declining numbers with the mild variant, having very little real word for very little effect,” Stevens said. “If it was a real serious problem, the school would be shut down. So there’s just a disconnect. So let’s just go back to normal. For the sake of everybody. I mean, it’s time. It’s past time.”

Stevens will leave the decision up to her daughter if she chooses to participate in sports or extracurricular activities.

“Well, mine is old enough to decide for herself,” Stevens said. “So as much as I’m against this mandate, or any type of mandate related to Covid, on a personal level, ultimately, it’s her decision.”

Fulton County schools returned to being mask optional on Jan. 24. The district’s mask policy has switched multiple times since the beginning of the school year. Officials announced in early August that masks would be required in areas with high numbers of Covid cases.

“I think at this point, with the mild Omicron variant, the numbers are declining,” Stevens said.  “And other local school districts are ending Covid protocols. I really don’t think there’s a need for it. I don’t understand how a school district that is literally adjacent to APS can have such a vastly different approach.”

Tomorrow, there will be a district chorus event with Fulton County Schools at Milton High School. Hill described the combination of masked and unmasked schools as “strange.”

“All of the APS kids have to be masked, even on this field trip for the entire time,” Hill said. “Fulton County is mask optional. Many of them will be masked, but probably a good chunk of them will also not be masked. And Milton is mask optional. So it’s all weird. We’re in a weird place with it all. Numbers are the highest they’ve ever been.”