It’s one of the most common sports: Whether to go to the gym or not, some kids don’t have the choice.
The Toronto District School Board recently sent a letter to parents, saying certain sports should not be played if you don’t have a vaccine.
Four classes or electives in grades six through eight are off-limits if there is no permission from the student. The letter says they “could pose serious risks to health” including sore muscles, nausea, dizziness and concussion. The ability to play sports like football, lacrosse, basketball and soccer are on-limits for the season.
“It is our belief that parents should determine whether their child should play any sport in our public schools,” the board said in a statement to CNN.
“From time to time we find that some of the organized games may present special challenges for students who may be unvaccinated and without the necessary permission to participate,” it said.
Earlier in the year, the Ontario legislature gave parents the right to exempt children from mandatory immunizations. The law allows for a religious exemption or for parents or guardians to opt out on a case-by-case basis.
There was a 13-day wait list for exemptions and almost 16,000 new exemptions were granted, the ministry of health said.
Parents, some of whom were upset by the decision, say there is a big difference between an “off” day from school and not wanting to have your child vaccinated.
“What they’ve done is taken a long-held, traditional, rite of passage for young Canadians and forced it into another scenario,” said Ron Lemieux, whose son is too young to go to school without being vaccinated.
Lemieux said if his son was a little older, he would still want him to be inoculated.
Nancy LaPlante, whose son is not old enough for school or vaccination, wants that choice preserved.
“I didn’t see an exemption option. That’s not where it was heading,” she said. “My last two choices was opt out or let my child die.”
Patti Denholm, the chair of the public school board, recently told CTV News that she understands the “personal choice” but didn’t want to “pick winners or losers.”
CNN visited three elementary schools, where parents said the letter was passed around, and none knew of it. Children who were at a skating rink said they had not received the letter.
One parent, who did not want to be identified, said school officials told parents that school fees might be affected if they didn’t have their child vaccinated.
“It could be cost of tuition. It could be they could say some of the students won’t have a charter card for class trips. Their program will not be available if they’ve not been immunized,” she said.
There are also safety concerns, especially from basketball and lacrosse, she said.
“Any kind of contact sport, with the concussion injuries and the concussions, they do recommend that kids do have boosters,” she said.
The letter’s language does include exceptions. The letter says that “some students who are unvaccinated and unwell are perfectly capable of participating in school-sanctioned activities, as long as they are symptom-free.”
CNN reached out to the Ontario Ministry of Health for comment but has not received a response.
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta notes that “yes” is not the same as “yes” to safe vaccinations.
“No teen feels good saying ‘no,’ ” he said.
However, he says it’s OK to postpone until your child’s health improves, even if school doesn’t start for another two weeks.