A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by a Moms for Liberty member revealed that a high-ranking official within the Department of Education encouraged schools to “leverage” athletics and other school-sponsored activities in order to boost COVID vaccination rates.
The emails, dated to August 2021, encouraged school officials to loosen quarantine requirements for vaccinated athletes, host vaccination clinics at preseason practices, and give student athletes and coaches prominent positions at pro-vaccination events.
“As we discussed…we have seen leveraging athletics and extracurriculars as a way to boost youth vaccinations be an effective tactic across the country,” one of the emails, all of which were written by Nick Simmons, the Department of Education’s senior advisor for school reopening and recovery, said. “Students want to avoid having to quarantine for 14 days, and coaches and parents also want to avoid this. Many districts have begun preseason practices and so would be good places to host clinics right now.”
The emails were sent to Eric Hagarty, who complained a few weeks later that “school leaders have faced an onslaught of coordinated misinformation campaigns about mask-wearing, local political pressure from vocal extremists, and intimidation” after parental rights groups objected to Pennsylvania’s school mask mandate. Hagarty was Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s deputy chief-of-staff at the time, and now serves as the state’s acting secretary of education.
Simmons added in an additional email that “teams will most likely have to forfeit if there is an outbreak, just like the SEC [NCAA Southeastern Conference] and NFL [National Football League] are doing.” The SEC did not announce their forfeit policy until August 30 — weeks after Simmons’ email. The policy was repealed in December. The NFL policy only turned to forfeits if a game could not be rescheduled.
During the 2021-2022 school year, hundreds of school districts, including those serving Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and the entire state of Hawaii, imposed vaccination mandates for athletics and other school activities. In New York City alone, more than 20,000 students were excluded from Public School Athletic League events for multiple years based on their vaccination status. The requirement was scrapped only last month, along with the city’s employer vaccine mandate.
“How many NYC students joined gangs instead of playing basketball last school year because the government decided to ‘leverage athletics’ with a vaccine mandate?” asked Justin Spiro, a New York-based therapist and social worker who opposed vaccine mandates.
“For me the most notable thing in these emails is the clear subordination of children’s needs, medical and otherwise,” added physician and writer Sarah Burwick. “The goal is shots in arms for the sake of…shots in arms.”
“This is just more evidence that the Biden administration, the CDC, the teachers unions…so many people that Americans would have normally felt they could trust turned their back on American children,” agreed Tiffany Justice, cofounder of Moms for Liberty. “We weren’t allowed to have our voices heard.”
Chalkboard Review staff reached out to the Department of Education for comment, but have not heard back at this time.