California Department of Public Health Updates School Guidance to Account for Sports and Extra Curricular Activities


On August 3, 2020, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) updated its COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Schools and School-Based Programs to account for Sports and Extra Curricular Activities (“CDPH Guidance”).  At the same time, CDPH issued a “Youth Sports Questions and Answers” document applicable to youth sports, including school, club, and recreational youth sports.

Effective July 30, 2020, youth sports and physical education, including school-based sports, are now permitted when the school can maintain the following:  (1) physical distancing of at least 6 feet; and (2) a regular cohort of students participating together that limit the risks of transmission.  Such activities should be conducted outside to the maximum extent possible.  “Tournaments, events, or competitions,” however, remain prohibited, even when they involve only teams from the same school.

A number of other activities are also prohibited.  In particular, the CDPH Guidance maintains a prohibition on “outdoor and indoor sporting events, assemblies, dances, rallies, field trips, and other activities that require close contact or that would promote congregating.”  Included in this prohibition are any activities that have an increased likelihood of transmission from exhaled droplets such as band and choir practice.  The CDPH Guidance advises that “for sports that cannot be conducted with sufficient distancing or cohorting, only physical conditioning and training is permitted and ONLY where physical distancing can be maintained.”  Any strength and conditioning exercises should take place outside and generally consist of drills that do not involve shared equipment; for example, running and body weight resistance training.  If equipment sharing is unavoidable, it must be cleaned and disinfected between uses by different students. 

Indoor physical training is only permitted in counties where gyms and fitness centers are allowed to operate indoors.  This includes only those counties who have not been on the State watchlist for 3 or more consecutive days.  At the time this Alert was issued, movement on and off the State watchlist was frozen due to errors in the State’s electronic coronavirus reporting system.  If indoor training is permitted in the particular county, a cloth face covering must be worn (except when showering).  CDPH recommends that if a mask becomes wet and obstructs breathing, it should be changed.  CDPH does not recommend using masks that restrict airflow such as N-95 masks when exercising.  CDPH further recommends that any training that requires “heavy exertion” should occur outside with appropriate physical distancing, and can occur without face coverings.

The CDPH Guidance does not directly address whether school sports programs can be conducted when the school itself remains closed to in-person instruction.  However, because CDPH has authorized youth sports to open generally, including school, club, and recreational youth sports, even in areas where schools remain closed, this suggests that school sports programs may also operate within the same parameters.  Any decision to reopen school sports programs, however, should be taken in light of applicable guidance from the California Interscholastic Federation (“CIF”), including the applicable CIF Section.

CIF has not provided any new guidance since July 20, 2020.  At that time, CIF determined that “education-based athletics for the 2020-2021 school year will begin with a modified season of sport schedule.”  The guidance can be obtained at this link.  With this in mind, CIF anticipates that most CIF Section start dates will commence in December 2020 or January 2021.  Due to the delay in starting Fall sports, CIF stated that CIF Sections can extend their summer period up until the first date of their Fall regular season sports calendar and any summer period activities must be authorized by the school’s principal or designee.

Additionally, schools must be sure to follow all sport-specific CIF Bylaws for their particular CIF Section to ensure they are in good standing once the season does begin.  For instance, CIF Bylaw 2003 for Football states that “A high school shall not conduct a physical conditioning practice session during the summer prior to the opening date of authorized football practice, unless so authorized by the appropriate Section.”  For specific regulations on when conditioning and practices for CIF sports can begin, please contact your specific CIF Section.

As discussed in a prior ALERT here, CIF has also provided guidance for schools when sports resume (last updated June 12, 2020), which can be accessed here.  In particular, CIF recommends compliance with all local public health agency guidance and generally recommends regular cleaning schedules for athletic facilities and equipment among other strategies.  Notably, the pre-participation exam normally required under CIF Bylaw 503.G can be temporarily waived, which will allow students a maximum of 30 additional calendar days from the school’s first day of practice to obtain the required medical exam.  However, there are other requirements to be eligible for the waiver and Districts will have discretion as to whether they will allow the waiver.  The CIF waiver form can be located here.

Based on the available guidance, whether a school can or should resume any type of practice or physical conditioning can vary, depending on the county in which the district is located and also the applicable CIF Section.  Accordingly, before any determinations are made, it is recommended that  Districts contact local county officials and/or legal counsel to ensure compliance with these many requirements.

This AALRR publication is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process.

© 2020 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo

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