Bigger Texas schools — those with a 5A or 6A designation — will have to wait until September to start football, volleyball, band

By STACY FERNÁNDEZ  Texas Tribune JULY 21, 2020

High school athletes who attend smaller public schools in Texas can start practicing volleyball and football as soon as Aug. 3. But bigger schools, which are more likely to be in more populous areas, will have to wait longer, according to new guidelines released by the University Interscholastic League on Tuesday.

Due to the continued coronavirus pandemic, the UIL, which is the organization that governs high school sports in Texas, created two separate calendars based on school size for resuming football, volleyball, tennis and cross country. Schools with the 1A to 4A designation can start meeting for games and meets in mid-to-late August. Schools in 5A or 6A, which are the biggest schools, will have to wait until September.

Marching bands across the state can begin their curriculums on Sept. 7.

The organization also issued guidance on face coverings, protocols for individuals exposed to COVID-19 and how to set up meeting areas like band halls and locker rooms.

Anyone 10 years or older must wear a face covering or face shield when in an area where UIL activities are underway, including when not actively participating in the sport or activity. People are exempt from the rule if they have a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering while eating or drinking or while in a body of water.

Some schools won’t have to follow UIL’s face covering rule if they are in a county with 20 or fewer active COVID-19 cases that has been approved for exemption by the Texas Department of Emergency Management. In that situation, masks can still be mandated if the local school system implements the requirements locally, according to the press release. UIL still “strongly” encourages face coverings in exempt schools.

The decision comes as discussions remain heated among parents, teachers and local and state officials about how and when to reopen schools. The state has been a coronavirus hot spot for weeks. More than 10,500 people were in the hospital with the virus as of Monday, with hospitals across the state reporting their capacities being stretched. The state also passed 4,000 confirmed deaths on Monday.

Just last week Texas education officials relaxed a previous order that would have given public schools just three weeks from the start of the fall semester to reopen classrooms for in-person instruction.

But the UIL acknowledged that “not all schools will be able to start at the same time” and left some room for schools to decide for themselves when they’ll begin scheduling sports, according to the press release.

UIL will work directly with schools whose scheduling concerns aren’t addressed in the plan so they can participate in “as many contests as possible.”

“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools,” said UIL Executive Director Charles Breithaupt in the press release. “While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread.”

On the college end, sports decisions are still in limbo. While NCAA officials have not yet released firm guidance on fall football, University of Texas at Austin Athletics Director Chris Del Conte indicated in a report earlier this week that football preparation was moving forward in accordance with local guidelines.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Greg Abbott announced college and professional stadiums were allowed to operate at 50% capacity, making it possible for about 50,000 Longhorn fans to be seated in stands this fall.

Raga Justin contributed reporting. The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.