PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Phoenix Union High School District has announced that all students, staff and volunteers who wish to participate in sports or extracurricular activities must be fully vaccinated by November or agree to submit to weekly testing. It's one of the first school districts in the Valley to issue such a requirement.

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Phoenix Union High School District has about 28,000 students and 4,000 employees.

In a news release, the district says they'll offer free vaccines and testing at all campuses. Officials say those who wish to get vaccinated at a later date will no longer have to test weekly. The requirement kicks in on Nov. 1.

"Requiring participants to be vaccinated or test weekly will help avoid COVID-shortened seasons and reduce spread during in-person learning when students return from their practices and competitions," said Superintendent Dr. Chad Gestson. 

In a virtual news conference on Thursday, Gestson says they've had to quarantine entire teams and cancel games because of COVID-19. They want to do everything they can to prevent the virus from shortening seasons and to stop it from spreading into classrooms and the community.

"As we look at the science and as we look at the spread of COVID in our community and even on our campuses, the largest struggle that we have had this past quarter is minimizing the spread of COVID during sports and extracurricular activities," Gestson said. 

The coronavirus vaccine may not be the best option for everyone, which is why they are giving the option to take a weekly test instead. "Our goal is to not lose a single coach or a single athlete which is why we've given them the choice."

The district says a list of all of the activities subject to the new rules will come out shortly. Winter sports like wrestling, indoor boys and girls basketball and soccer will be included. The announcement comes just days after a judge threw out the state law banning mask mandates on campus after it was inserted into the state budget when it should have been its own standalone bill.

"Now the court has held that the statute is unconstitutional due to the single-subject rule," said Valley attorney Dan Barr. "So there's nothing at all prohibiting a public school from having a vaccine mandate and the public schools have vaccine mandates for at least six vaccines throughout Arizona."

"So all Phoenix Union is doing is just district is doing is just adding an additional vaccine to that list," he added.

PXU has continued to work to encourage and even incentivize vaccination. They were also one of the first to enact a mask mandate despite a legislative attempt to ban it. Earlier this week, a judge struck down key provisions, declaring the ban on mask mandates as unconstitutional.

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The school district has previously hosted multiple vaccination sites on campuses and is currently undergoing a "Vax to the Max" campaign which offers students to be paid $100, and staff to be paid $200 to get the shot. More information about the district's COVID-19 guidelines can be found on the school district's website.

When it started a few weeks ago, Gestson said 10% of staff disclosed they were fully vaccinated and they hadn't started tracking students yet. Now more than 60% of staff say they are fully vaccinated and nearly 9,000 students are as well.


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