Texas Releases COVID-19 Guidelines for 2020-2021 Academic and Athletic Year

The Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) has issued updated guidelines for mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19 during the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year. These guidelines will have a major impact on sports, and the Texas Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (TISCA) has published its guidelines for the 2020-2021 swimming and diving season on its website.

Texas has one of the longest high school swimming and diving seasons in the country, with many schools beginning tryouts and practices in August before classes begin and concluding with the State Championships in February.

Texas high schools are classified by size on a scale of 1A (the smallest) through 6A (the largest). Texas high school swimming is divided into two classifications: 6A, and 5-1A and below, collectively referred to as “5A.” The guidelines for returning to practice and competition, however, group 5A and 6A together, having assigned different dates to smaller schools between 1A and 4A, though this is not expected to result in a change to the state meets in February.

A few key takeaways from the TISCA regulations include:

  • A potential return to practice on August 3rd for 1-4A schools;
  • A potential return to competition on August 17th for 1-4A schools;
  • A potential return to practice and competition on September 7th* for 5-6A schools;
  • Face-coverings must be worn by all attending a practice or competition while not actively engaged in a swim or dive, meaning swimmers and divers will have to wear masks between events when they are on the deck or in the locker rooms;
  • An 8-school maximum for invitational meets;
  • “One level” invitational meets, meaning some leagues may need to hold two separate varsity-only and junior varsity-only invitational meets.

*It is likely that 5-6A schools will be allowed to return to practice as early as August 3rd as long as those early-season practices remain “optional.” This loophole seems possible due to TISCA’s allowance of 2 hours of “sport-specific skill time” which will begin on August 3rd. However, due to the wording of the rule, if a student-athlete is also taking a physical education course the time spent in gym class could be deducted from their “sport-specific skill time,” as TISCA states that “If school has started (virtual or in-person) the athletic period would be included in that 2 hours.”

The Texas interscholastic swimming season will be impacted on a logistical level as the number of swimmers (and divers) competing in a given meet will be limited. While there is no prescribed number of athletes per competition established, invitational-level meets are limited to 8 schools and all participants must “be the same level,” meaning varsity-only meets and junior varsity-only meets, when applicable. Boy’s and girl’s competitions may be run simultaneously, however, if both genders competing represent the same level of competition (again, varsity or JV). There is no word yet on how regional and state meets may be impacted by the 8-school limit, or if that regulation would be waived for those competitions.

Per UIL guidelines, spectators will be limited to 50% of the capacity of the venue hosting the meet.

The UIL guidelines, which set the framework for TISCA’s regulations, cover face mask regulations, testing for COVID-19, reintegration of students and staff back into the education system following COVID-19 diagnosis and recovery, and more.

School staff, coaches, and spectators of UIL activities 10 years and older will be required to wear a face-covering–either a mask or a shield–when in “an area where UIL activities are being conducted.”

Schools are required to have a screening procedure in place for all staff, students, and anybody else that would enter the campus or attend UIL activities. Self-screening is the most widely-prescribed and easiest method recommended by the UIL, though schools must themselves check all who wish to attend UIL activities. Screening by the school, however, is limited to asking attendees if they are “symptomatic for COVID-19, as opposed to asking the individual for specific symptom confirmation.”

The UIL does permit school officials to take the temperature of adults in certain situations, stating “When practical, screening questions could be supplemented with temperature checks of adults.”

Concerning classes, parents will have the option of having their students learn remotely or return to school physically to receive in-person instruction, though a three-week return-to-campus integration period could be required if deemed necessary by the school district.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is working with “the Office of the Governor, Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) to coordinate and plan the state’s response to COVID-19,” according to the TEA’s website. The TEA, however, does not have the authority to close schools for health-related reasons and is therefore solely serving in an advisory role to help the state and its school districts prepare for the academic year. The power to close schools lies only with the Governor, the DSHS, and local health authorities.

TEA requires “school systems” to develop their own plans for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in schools. Additionally, UIL requires that all school activities such as sports are included in a school’s plans for mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19 to students and staff. These plans must be posted to the homepage of a school’s website or another “easily-accessible area of the school website,” though the plans do not require TEA approval.

The full extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the upcoming 2020-2021 academic and athletic year remains to be seen, and the strategies devised during the summer have yet to be tested. Ultimately, the confidence both student-athletes and their parents place in policymakers will likely be the most revealing test for the reopening of schools and sports this fall.

TISCA’s full regulations for the 2020-2021 swimming & diving season are copied below. Swimming & diving only has 2 classifications in Texas: 5A, which includes all schools in Class 5A and under, and 6A.

Season Reminders Concerning 2020-21 Regulations

  • Beginning August 3rd the sport-specific skill time will be increased to 2 hours per kid, per day. This will stay into effect for 5A & 6A schools through September 7th. If school has started (virtual or in-person) the athletic period would be included in that 2 hours.
  • Face coverings must be worn by any team or event personnel while not actively engaged in a swim or dive. This includes warm-up pools.
  • Invitational Meets may have no more than 8 total schools and only one level of competitors (Var/JV/9th). A school could bring a girls and boys team, but they would need to be the same level.
  • District Meets may only have one level of competitors participating on-site at a given time. Example: if Varsity Boys/Girls are swimming, JV would not be allowed on-site until the varsity athletes have left.
  • Additional information will be released at a later time concerning Regional and State Meets
  • Invitational Meets may have no more than 8 total schools and only one level of competitors (Var/JV/9th). A school could bring a girls and boys team, but they would need to be the same level.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and exercise equipment.
  • Pre and Post Meet Ceremony: Establish swimming & diving specific social distancing meet protocols including the elimination of handshakes before and after an event.

Important Dates
Class 1A-4A Schools

  • Practices can begin
  • Meets may begin after August 17, 2020

Class 5A/6A Schools

  • Practices & Meets may begin after September 7, 2020

January 30, 2021 District Certification
February 5 & 6, 2021 Regional Meet
February 19-20, 2021 State Meet

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8 months ago

Texas has a 6 1/2 month high school swim season? California’s is barely over three months.

Reply to  Swim&PoloDad
8 months ago

yes, its a long high school season is in texas.

Reply to  swimcoach
8 months ago

Real long.

Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

Too long

Reply to  Swammer
8 months ago

I don’t think it is too long but having to wake up at 5 everyday for more than half the year definitely wears you down. The good news is that when the season is over you get an extra 2 hours of sleep

Reply to  Evan
8 months ago

Don’t know about other schools, but in our 6A school in Round Rock practices start at 7:30am. First period is swimming for all of them.

Swim Mom
Reply to  PsychoDad
8 months ago

Our NW Houston area school arrive at school at 5:40 for practice. School begins at 7:25 so they swim them spend half of first period getting ready.

Swim Mom
Reply to  Swim&PoloDad
8 months ago

It is ridiculously long!!!!!!!

Justin Thompson
8 months ago

Seems reasonable. Muzzle up unless you’re in the water.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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