LA JOYA — One month after becoming the first multi-school district in Texas to call off high school fall sports practices and competition, La Joya ISD is now reconsidering whether its schools should be allowed to resume varsity athletic practices in the near future.
In late August, the La Joya ISD school board voted to file a waiver with the Texas Education Agency to extend distance-only learning for an additional four weeks as a district in a COVID-19 hot-spot area, after the TEA said over the summer that it would allow schools across Texas an eight-week transition period.
The La Joya school district moved to delay a return to district-wide, in-person learning until early November and ruled out the return of any on-campus athletic practices, competition or other extracurricular activities until on-campus learning resumes.
Due to updates to the TEA’s return-to-school guidelines and the evolving public health situation in Hidalgo and neighboring Starr County, which has slowly but steadily improved in recent weeks, La Joya ISD now plans to partially reopen its doors to a select group of students Oct. 5 raising questions as to how that may affect the status of fall sports at La Joya’s three high schools — La Joya High, Juarez-Lincoln and Palmview — moving forward.
The La Joya ISD course-reversal also comes after a pair of key local developments.
On Saturday afternoon, more than 500 La Joya families and student-athletes gathered in Palmview to sign a hard-copy petition asking La Joya ISD to reconsider bringing football and other fall sports back before the district’s November return-to-learn date.
On Wednesday evening, a crowd of student-athletes and families representing La Joya High, Juarez-Lincoln and Palmview gathered at the La Joya ISD headquarters building in anticipation of a scheduled school board meeting to protest in favor of overturning the board’s current ban on on-campus athletic activities.
“All of us here are for our students. A majority of us here can proudly say that we were participants in this athletic program and it’s something that we hold near and dear to our hearts,” La Joya ISD Athletic Director Victor Garza said during a school board meeting Wednesday. “Nothing those kids said today fell on deaf ears.”
Many also asked the district to consider a parent survey to gauge fall sports preferences, which the district acknowledged may be necessary to determine the interest level in bringing back athletics in the near future.
“At the end of the day, we need a whole group and I don’t want to go into all of this if we’re not going to have a full team,” La Joya ISD school board vice president Mary T. Hernandez said.
“We’ve talked about it, and we’d be ready to do (a fall sport survey) if we needed to,” Victor Garza said. “We have some who are pushing for it and we also have some parents who have said, ‘I’m glad you did it because no matter what happens, my son is not playing.’”
The news comes on the heels of Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco, the first Texas school district to call off fall sports this year, voting during a school board meeting Tuesday to bring back on-campus fall sports practices as soon as this week, and after Rio Hondo, the only other Texas high school to have recently ruled out fall sports competition, elected to call off athletic competition this fall last week.
La Joya ISD did not respond to multiple official requests for comment before publication.
The first big question La Joya ISD officials will have to address, though, is what a potential return to play for the Coyotes, Huskies and Lobos’ fall sports programs might look like.
The University Interscholastic League has stated that schools and school districts must present an approved COVID-19 mitigation plan and protocols before they may reopen school facilities for student-athletes’ use.
“(Regular testing) would be a part of our athletic reopening plan. We would go ahead and put those things in place,” Victor Garza said. “I understand that time is of the essence here, but I think it’s a dialogue between the administration and the board right now that we need to continue to … make sure every precaution if this is something we decide we’re going to do, is taken.”
The second major concern for the La Joya schools boils down to scheduling.
Since La Joya ISD opted out of the football and volleyball seasons a month ago, schools throughout the Rio Grande Valley have shifted their schedules, in some cases dramatically, to account for the planned absences of the Coyotes, Huskies and Lobos’ teams, leaving La Joya ISD in a time crunch.
Now, La Joya ISD officials hope to complete district schedules before football and volleyball regular seasons begin for the Valley’s Class 5A and 6A schools in early-to-mid October should they decide to play after all.
“I’ve had the opportunity to speak to quite a few (district athletic directors) who said they would do their best if we do decide to bring back football (and other fall sports) to accommodate us into their schedules,” said Armin Garza, a La Joya ISD board member.
“We notified our (district executive) committee to let them know we would be in communication with them depending on the county’s situation (with COVID-19),” Victor Garza said.