Orlando Sentinel | Chris Hays | September 14, 2020
Parents of Orange County Public Schools football players are upset about a new COVID-19 testing policy and have started a petition calling for changes.
OCPS told coaches and athletes one week before Orange County teams kick off their season on Thursday, providing a limited response time for all involved.
If Orange County athletes want to play football, they must be tested for COVID-19. A waiver, which in part waives their Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rights for privacy, also is required.
The district responded to several concerns raised by parents, including the privacy issue:
“It is constant with federal law as HIPAA provides for a patient to designate who will receive personal health information. In this case, the authorization is providing the release of test results to OCPS,” district spokesperson Michael Ollendorff wrote via email.
The waiver states parents also are giving AdventHealth the authority to share results with anyone.
It reads: “I understand those who receive test results because of this authorization may not need be required to keep my test results private under HIPAA, and that they may share the test results with others.”
It’s one of many concerns that parents have about the testing program.
“There are a lot of people who are not happy with the measure. I’m irate over it,” said Greg Hatch, father of Dr. Phillips receiver Ledger Hatch. “I think it’s a clear violation of our constitutional rights. … But by signing this agreement, you waive those rights.
“If you follow the CDC and their current guidelines, and their most recent update was Aug. 24, it clearly states that asymptomatic [persons] do not need to be tested.”
Hatch, who echoes the sentiments of numerous parents across the district, said there are many concerns about the testing protocols in addition to the privacy issue. He cited a few other concerns:
- False positive test results that can’t be resolved before athletes must miss games.
- The possibility of further interfering with athletes’ pursuit of college scholarships.
- Football is the only sport with mandatory testing scheduled and Orange County is the only district in the Central Florida region conducting testing of football players.
“I see this as a death penalty for football,” Hatch said. “It’s just an excuse to shut down the football season.”
Hatch said he asked OCPS representatives if an outside source could be used for follow-up testing in the event of inconclusive or potential false positive results, and the answer from the district was, “No.”
Hatch started a petition during the weekend that is circulating among Orange County parents hoping to stop the testing. He has collected 580 signatures as of Monday evening.
Ollendorff wrote in an email OCPS does not comment about petitions.
OCPS Superintendent Barbara Jenkins has frequently voiced her concerns about resuming athletics without testing.
During an August school board workshop she said, “When it comes to athletics, I am very concerned. I am still concerned that when you get athletes together, they are going to embrace or sweat on each other.
“If we see concerns with COVID-19 positive cases, we will have to respond.”
During an Aug. 25 meeting when OCPS’ return-to-play plan for all fall sports was presented to the school board, chair Teresa Jacobs said she wanted district administrators to explore the possibility of rapid testing for athletes.
OCPS eventually settled on the testing plan expected to cost up to $2 million and be covered by CARES Act funds obtained by the school district.
Beginning Tuesday, the first teams on the OCPS testing schedule will be Apopka, Dr. Phillips, Edgewater, Evans, Olympia and Wekiva.
On Wednesday, AdventHealth is scheduled to test Windermere, Winter Park, Timber Creek, West Orange, Colonial, East River, Ocoee and University.
And more schools are scheduled to be tested Thursday, which is game day for many OCPS schools due to observance of Rosh Hashanah, which begins Friday.
Coaches with players testing on game day are frustrated. Boone, Lake Nona and Freedom are scheduled for game-day rapid testing in the morning, while Jones, Cypress Creek and Oak Ridge are scheduled for testing in the afternoon. It could put those teams in a predicament if players test positive, giving them little time to react to lineup changes.
It’s unclear how many athletes would be quarantined in the event of a positive test result or how many positive tests might trigger canceling or postponing a game.
“We have a rotating schedule and coaches are aware of the current situation and are planning accordingly just as they would for a last-minute injury,” Ollendorff wrote in an e-mail.
Coaches, who asked not to be identified because the district has instructed them not to speak with the media about the testing policy, are unhappy with the way the testing protocol was set up one week prior to the season kicking off.
Melvin Lawson, the uncle of Jones High tight end Eddie Kelly, said he is concerned news about players testing positive will circulate among their peers.
“For the ones who get tested on game day, other kids will take it and run with it all kinda ways. You’ll be the laughingstock of the school and stuff. They gotta come up with a better way,” Lewis said. “Just imagine your child testing positive for COVID and all the sudden he can’t play tonight. Everybody on that team is gonna know … and it’s gonna be spread throughout the whole school.
“The other kids will start snickering and grinnin’ about it. Kids don’t care. Come on, man. Something else has to be done.”
The district spokesman stated fellow students should not know when a player tests positive.
“The athletic director, who receives the test, will inform the student that his test is positive. We will not inform the team if a student tests positive. We would just tell the team the child is not playing. It is the same as when a player is injured — we say the student is not playing in tonight’s game, not what his injury is,” Ollendorff wrote.
Lawson said if a player loses his chance to compete due to multiple positive COVID-19 test results among teammates, his chances for getting to college become very slim.
“Some kids, all they got is football. … A lot of kids that play for Jones High, they come from nowhere. They’re trying to get somewhere,” said Lawson, who runs a YouTube channel Hood News and graduated from Jones in 1982. “Football is their ticket out. This COVID thing, we gotta pray or something.”