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UIL says school districts still have final say on if students can participate in athletics if they c

It appeared Friday morning that the University Interscholastic League had changed course and implemented a statewide guideline that would allow students to participate in sports and extracurricular activities if they choose virtual learning over in-person learning, if their school district offers both options because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But in reality, nothing has changed since Wednesday, when the UIL told The Dallas Morning News that it is up to each individual school district to decide if their students are eligible to compete in athletics and extracurricular activities if they choose virtual learning.

The UIL told The News on Friday afternoon that school districts supersede the UIL eligibility requirements in this matter. The UIL said that a district can still implement its own requirements and can rule that students are ineligible for extracurricular activities, including athletics, if they choose virtual learning.

Sanger ISD Superintendent Dr. Tommy Hunter confirmed this week that all students can participate in UIL, regardless of learning platform - face to face or online.

SISD athletes can do distance learning this year. Athletes will be encouraged to do their classes at school, but will be allowed to do sports this year, if they come to the athletic period and practices, according to SHS head football coach Rocky Smart, in an email Wednesday.

Of course, it still remains to be seen if high school sports can be played this fall. The UIL has not announced its plans yet.

In an appearance with WFAA last week, Gov. Greg Abbott said he thinks the UIL might be waiting until the school year gets a bit closer before revealing any plans.

“I’m sure that you have noticed and perhaps reported that as these teams have returned to practice, there have been outbreaks of COVID among teammates,” he said. “And obviously it would be challenging to put a season together if that is happening. Let us get a bit closer to the season beginning and I know the UIL will be basing rules upon what is in the best interest for the health and safety of the players, of the students, of the parents.”

Here is an update on the UIL’s website: “Students participating in remote learning offered by their school district, whether synchronous or asynchronous (as defined by TEA), may participate in UIL activities if they meet all other UIL eligibility requirements. Students must be enrolled in remote learning options through the school the student will represent. Schools may develop local policies with additional requirements for participation.”

That last sentence gives individual school districts the power to make their own decisions.

The UIL said that the eligibility rule that it posted Friday morning is not a new rule. The UIL said it posted the update because it “wanted to highlight it on the COVID-19 page because we were getting a lot of questions about virtual learning and eligibility.”

In providing clarification Friday afternoon, the UIL referenced back to requirements for “online courses” that were already on the UIL website.

Here is a question and answer within that section:

May an online course be counted for eligibility purposes as it relates to the full time student rule?

“Yes, based on the understanding that any online or virtual class, taken via the TxVSN or other district and state approved provider, is handled through the local independent school district in which the student is enrolled, the following information would apply:

Online courses would count toward determining the full time student status of a participant. Each online course taken through the district would count equivalent to the amount of time spent each day at school for a student taking that course or a similar course as part of their regular school day.”

Then comes the key part of that section, as it reads: “It is important to remember that school districts may voluntarily impose stricter standards than those cited in this document.”

The UIL said that the only thing that was new in last week’s update was this: “For the 2020-2021 school year, UIL eligibility requirements for the first six weeks of school have been modified to allow a student to be eligible for the first six weeks if they accumulated at least two and a half credits since the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Schools may impose additional requirements.”

Last week area football coaches had expressed concerns about letting districts decide eligibility for sports if virtual learning was a student’s primary choice. Their biggest worry was an uptick in transfers due to different rules in different districts.

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