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DOE: Shots avoid virtual, canceled athletics season

Parents, teachers, others take issue with rules during Maui, Oahu protests

In the wake of Maui and Oahu rallies against state and county vaccination mandates, state Department of Education officials on Monday afternoon said that requiring vaccinations for student athletes is the best way to avoid a virtual or canceled season.

DOE last week said that all high school sports will be pushed back and now begin on Sept. 24 to allow for mandatory vaccinations.

Pointing to high transmission rates, health officials had recommended that Hawaii’s athletic season be canceled or that virtual sports be played, interim state schools superintendent Keith Hayashi said Monday during a news conference.

“But we know how important sports are to our families and community and want to do everything we could to ensure that athletics were accessible and still an option for our students,” he said. “We want sports to happen.”

DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani after the conference said that state Department of Health officials advised that Hawaii sports go virtual, though, DOE is “not super clear on what that would look like.” 

She added that DOE is “deviating a little bit” from the virtual-only recommendation only so that athletes may have a season. 

Education officials on Monday echoed that participation in athletics is a privilege and therefore some restrictions may be imposed to prioritize safety.

“Extracurricular activities, including athletics, are important but secondary to educating students in the classroom,” Hayashi said during the news conference.

When asked about possible requirements for spectators, Hayashi said that officials are currently in discussion about protocol.

“As we get closer to the period where we will be able to have our students compete in athletics, we will be taking a look at the current situation and making an appropriate decision based on the data and the protocols that are in place at that time,” he said.

Kalani said that vaccination gives the students an option to play safely. If a student falls ill, quarantine requirements are triggered. The COVID-19 positive student is out of school for 10 days, and any unvaccinated close contact must also quarantine for 10 days. 

Cases and exposure to cases have wide-reaching impacts on sports and scheduling. In one incident, a single COVID-19 case impacted seven other teams, she added.

“We don’t want students to be denied opportunity for competitions because their team had to quarantine,” Hayashi said. “If there’s just one positive case, anyone unvaccinated determined to be a close contact will have to quarantine for 10 days.”

Already, cases are being reported in large numbers while in preseason practices, he said.

Athletics present various challenges when it comes to the possibility for COVID-19 transmission, Hayashi said. Masks are difficult to wear during activity; physical contact is often inevitable; and heavy breathing when exerting may hold a greater risk for spread.

“We know sports are important,” Kalani said. “Last year we had to shut down and there was no option. We are trying to find a way to allow athletics in a safe manner that doesn’t negatively impact in person education as well.”

Protests against last week’s state’s announcements requiring vaccinations for student athletes to compete, and for state and county workers to remain employed, were held on Maui on Thursday and Monday. Another rally at the Wailuku state building is slated for Friday.

A protest also took place on Oahu at Honolulu Hale on Monday.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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