Atlanta parent: Mandated testing of athletes stokes fears about COVID

Twice-weekly tests for students in sports are required in Atlanta Public Schools
Parents watch their daughters compete in the girls soccer game from the sidewalk outside the fence on Chester Avenue at Maynard Jackson High School on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Parents watch their daughters compete in the girls soccer game from the sidewalk outside the fence on Chester Avenue at Maynard Jackson High School on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton /

In a guest column, a parent outlines her objections to the decision by Atlanta Public Schools to mandate twice-weekly COVID-19 testing for students who play sports.

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported, APS launched a surveillance testing program at schools to screen for COVID-19 among students and employees. Twice-weekly participation became mandatory for staff in September. Student participation has been voluntary. As of early January, about 20% of parents consented to have their child get tested regularly.

In mid-January, APS mandated twice-weekly COVID-19 testing for all students who play sports or participate in extracurricular activities, saying it will remain a rule as long as levels of COVID-19 community spread are high. The AJC reported that APS data shows only 23% of eligible APS students were fully vaccinated as of Jan. 3.

Cecily Stevens is the mother of an APS student. She has spent her career working in schools, churches and nonprofits. She received her undergraduate degree from Georgia State University and her master of arts in teaching from Western New Mexico University.

By Cecily Stevens

This week, many Atlanta Public Schools parents reluctantly gave consent for our children to participate in mandatory twice-weekly COVID-19 surveillance testing. The school district recently announced, “Students wanting to participate in athletics or other extracurricular activities will not be allowed to do so if they have not consented to surveillance testing, twice a week.” On-site testing is already optional for all other APS students.

The news came as a surprise to many APS parents and coaches. The announcement sparked renewed concerns about the long-term impact of COVID-19 protocols on children and schools, as well as the district’s implementation of these protocols.

Cecily Stevens (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesty Photo

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Credit: Courtesty Photo

This mandate unnecessarily prolongs the disruptions of the pandemic. COVID-19 risk for vaccinated children is very low. With severe disease risk already very low, vaccines drive children’s risk to nearly zero. Other local districts are ending COVID-19 protocols, but APS is digging in, requiring on-site medical testing to access after-school activities.

APS should de-escalate fear around COVID-19, not stoke the flames. This mandate is yet another barrier to normalcy, and a positive test equals a required five days at home, regardless of symptoms. Returning to normal life for our kids is the best way to support and help them grow. COVID-19 testing twice weekly is not normal.

This mandate creates a barrier to activities integral to the mental and physical well-being of many APS students. Several children will sit out of the sports and activities they love because of their refusal to test or their family’s beliefs. Many of us will consent to testing despite our outrage over the fact that APS is forcing what should be a family’s decision at a time when other districts are transitioning back to normal.

Open records requests show that APS spent more than $7 million on COVID-19 testing prior to the new mandate. Concerned parents estimate that APS could end up paying $15 million for its on-site testing. This money could have gone to hire more teachers and substitute teachers, purchase educational materials, and provide more security on campuses.

Strangely, the testing mandate “does not apply to students in after-school arts activities that are related to coursework in an enrolled class, like an evening band concert. It does apply to students in an extracurricular activity not associated with an enrolled class, like an after-school drama club.”

Yet, golfers and tennis players who play outside and experience little to no close contact are required to test. Despite emails to the district’s staff epidemiologist questioning the rationale, APS parents have only received a canned response. This method of categorizing activities definitely doesn’t seem to “follow the science.”

The mandate also piles more on APS educators, who are overwhelmed. During a Jan. 20 Principal’s Coffee, Midtown High School Principal Betsy Bockman said, “We’re asking schools to do an awful lot these days … from monitoring and responding to kids’ mental health concerns … to covering classes with no subs … to make sure that we’re monitoring academic dishonesty, and COVID. There’s no extra people to help with that on the school level … the things we’re being asked to do have greatly increased this year.”

In a recent letter to parents, Bockman described herself as a “COVID manager, attempting to keep to our protocols and guidelines in accordance with a number of different entities.” Principals are not health care professionals, and APS should not require them to serve in that capacity.

According to the AJC, “As of early January, about 20% of parents consented to have their child get tested regularly, and APS leaders have been seeking ways to expand the program.”

Clearly, the majority of APS families do not consider COVID-19 testing integral to their children’s health. The fact that 20% of families are using the testing option clearly shows that most do not want their kids tested at school.

Atlanta children deserve access to the school sports and activities that are integral to their mental health and physical well-being without forced medical testing. COVID-19 is likely here to stay. These haphazard and wasteful attempts by the district to minimize COVID-19 only prolong the pandemic-related stress and suffering experienced by so many of our children.