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UIL leaves COVID-19 protocols up to schools; Nederland announces changes

Following Governor Greg Abbott’s decision earlier this week to cease all COVID-19 mandates in the state, the University Interscholastic League updated its Risk Mitigation Guidelines, which go into effect Wednesday.

Much like the updates seen to the Texas Education Agency’s COVID-19 guidelines, the UIL update allows district school boards to alter or eliminate mask-related requirements or enforce them.

While local athletic directors do not believe there will be much change to mask requirements for student-athletes, Nederland ISD will allow 75 percent capacity at outdoor sporting events, the district said in a release Friday.

The district said indoor events will stay at 50 percent capacity and individuals who attend any UIL event will be required to wear face coverings.

Nederland athletic director Monte Barrow said student athletes will continue to wear masks.

“I talked to a couple of coaches and they are still going to be cognizant of kids wearing masks on a bus and when they are bunched up,” Barrow said. “Like with soccer, you are inside that tent sometimes and sitting on the bench. If someone gets it, with the playoffs coming up, you don’t want to be quarantined because you were next to them without a mask on. As long as the guidelines say that you are near someone that has it, you have to quarantine, that could hurt you as an individual and your team.”

Some schools districts are opting to not make any changes.

“We’re not changing anything,” said Brian Morgan, Port Arthur Independent School District AD. “Our school district isn’t changing anything, so we are in line with what we have been doing. Really, from an athletic standpoint, it is probably less of an issue. There aren’t anymore indoor sports going on, at least for us. There are a couple of basketball teams that are still playing at the end. Everything right now is outdoors.”

Morgan said it is better to err on the side of caution.

“Everyone is already in the routine,” he said. “We’ll just keep doing what we are doing. We will continue through May. I know, at least as of right now, planning on completely being back to school next fall. I’m sure things would be a little back to normal by then, you would hope. We have been fortunate. We haven’t really had any outbreaks in sports. It seems that what the UIL put in place has worked throughout the state when you look at it. We might have eight weeks of sports, maybe. There really isn’t a need to change anything.”

Port Neches-Groves AD Brandon Faircloth said the district is having conversations about the governor’s order and added the district is expected to make a decision within the next week.

PNG and Nederland are expected to make announcements next week about how the districts plan to precede moving forward for the rest of the year.

The UIL updates also allow for schools to determine the maximum capacity for sporting events. However, fans attending games that are not at their schools’ facilities will be required to follow that facility’s rules that are posted.