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Fairfax County Public Schools will require a coronavirus vaccine for high school student-athletes

Masked students arrive at Glasgow Middle School in Lincolnia, Va., on Aug. 23, the first day back to school for Fairfax County Public Schools.
Masked students arrive at Glasgow Middle School in Lincolnia, Va., on Aug. 23, the first day back to school for Fairfax County Public Schools. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

Fairfax County Public Schools will require students who play winter and spring high school sports this academic year to get a coronavirus vaccine, officials announced Monday — marking one of the first such student vaccine mandates nationwide.

The rule will go into effect Nov. 8, school officials wrote in a message to principals Monday. Starting that date, any student who wishes to participate in a Virginia High School League winter or spring sport during the 2021-2022 academic year must provide proof of vaccination.

Students who join any other activity that requires a physical — a category that includes step team and dance team, as well as out-of-season workouts and practices — will also have to provide proof of vaccination, Fairfax officials said.

In a news release, Superintendent Scott Brabrand called vaccination of students a key step to ensuring that children can learn in-person without disruption this year.

“The majority of pauses to instruction for our high school students come as a result of exposure during athletic activities,” Brabrand said in a statement. “These pauses impact participation in activities and in-person learning while the Fairfax County Health Department investigates and determines close contacts and next steps.”

What to know about school masks, staff vaccines and quarantines in the D.C. area

The vaccine mandate will affect students participating in basketball, gymnastics, cheerleading, indoor and outdoor track and field, swim and dive, wrestling, rifle, baseball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis and crew, according to Fairfax spokeswoman Julie Moult.

Student athletes participating in fall sports will not face a vaccine requirement, Moult said, nor will they be asked to engage in coronavirus testing.

As of late August, according to Fairfax officials, roughly 75 percent of all 16- to 18-year-olds in the county are fully vaccinated, and about 85 percent have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Fairfax reopened for face-to-face instruction for the vast majority of its roughly 180,000 students last week. Since the first day of school, Aug. 23, the school system has reported at least 116 student cases of the coronavirus and 19 confirmed cases among staff members, according to a Fairfax tracking website.

A spokeswoman did not immediately answer a question Monday asking how many Fairfax students and staffers had entered quarantine.

Over the past month, most Washington-area school systems — including Fairfax — adopted policies requiring vaccination or regular testing for school employees. But only one other has issued a vaccine mandate for students: Charles County Public Schools, which educates roughly 27,000 students in southern Maryland.

In late July, the district announced that, starting this fall, all high school students participating in sports must either provide proof of full vaccination or submit to weekly coronavirus testing.

If students fail to comply, they will “not be allowed to participate with the team, at practice or games,” Charles County officials wrote in a news release.

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