LA JOYA — Families and student-athletes gathered Saturday afternoon to petition La Joya ISD to allow fall sports programs to resume practices and competition this school year.

A group of families and student-athletes representing cross-country, football, team tennis and volleyball programs from the La Joya school district’s three high schools — La Joya High, Juarez-Lincoln and Palmview — and middle schools gathered for a drive-through petition signing beginning around noon at Peter Piper Pizza in Palmview.

Nearly 500 fall sports student-athletes, parents and supporters between the three La Joya high schools signed a hard-copy petition that they plan to present in anticipation of the next La Joya school board meeting, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Saturday and will be conducted via a public video conference due to health and safety concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The goal: allow student-athletes and their parents to make the same choices afforded to families of fall sports athletes in other school districts across Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.

“As a player, our coaches always taught us to never give up. During this (pandemic), the district basically gave up on us before the season even started, so as players, it really took a hit on our confidence because we really thought this year was our year,” La Joya Palmview senior linebacker Pablo Guerrero said. “I thought that they (La Joya ISD) did make that decision too early. I understand that they care about our health and our families’ health, but I also think that we should have had a choice and more of a voice.”

The petition’s signatories want the district to allow fall sports practices and eventual competition to resume Sept. 28 — in line with most other Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr County schools — or at the earliest, safely permissible date before in-person, on-campus classes are set to resume in November.

In essence, these student-athletes and their families are asking La Joya ISD to send out a fall sports survey to families — like similar online or email fall sports surveys in Edinburg CISD, Mission CISD, PSJA ISD and Rio Grande City CISD, among others — and seek their input before revisiting the issue for the first time in nearly one month.

“The main topic was that we wanted a choice because when the district supposedly made the decision, we never even heard about it. They just told us straight up that we weren’t going to play,” Guerrero said. “We at least want a voice.”

“(We’re) pretty much (asking) to go back to start Sept. 28 just like everyone else and for (fall sports) to be allowed before November,” Palmview offensive lineman Alejandro Mendiola said. “We’re still missing people because some parents weren’t able to make it (Saturday), but on Monday we’re going to the LJISD board to protest the season. We’re blessed to have a good parent committee. I can only hope and pray for the best.”

A separate online La Joya ISD fall sports petition was also picking up traction on Facebook and Twitter on Saturday afternoon. La Joya ISD did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

In late August, the La Joya ISD board voted in favor of filing for a waiver from the Texas Education Agency to further delay any return to in-person learning at its schools for an additional four weeks, after the TEA granted all Texas schools an eight-week, online-only transition period to begin the school year.

Schools and school districts in COVID-19 hot-spot areas are allowed to file for a waiver, which La Joya ISD officials did, to extend distance-only learning approaches for an additional four weeks if approved.

The development comes after Rio Hondo ISD officials announced a similar ban Wednesday on returning to in-person learning and/or on-campus athletic activities until at least early November after filing a TEA waiver too.

“We’re seeing all these other teams from the Valley that are already releasing their schedules and we’re still sitting here, while (the district) hasn’t reconsidered,” Guerrero said. “We decided that with this petition and talking to all these families, maybe we might get another chance for our district to reconsider their decision.”

Currently, La Joya High, Juarez-Lincoln and Palmview are three of five Texas high schools that have called off participation in fall sports competition, joining Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco — the first Texas high school to cancel fall sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic — and Rio Hondo, the latest Texas high school to do so.

Email: amcculloch@themonitor.com

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch