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Districts look to expand spectator participation


Photo courtesy Izzy Elise

Schools are looking to loosen up on attendance limits for sporting events.



By Jamie Wiggan


-COVID-19-


While politicos wrangle over virus regulations, area school districts are exploring whether they can safely increase crowd participation limits at sporting events.


“We’re advising districts in the area that it’s up to each district if you want to flex a little bit… as long as you have restrictions in place so people aren’t crowded together,” Solicitor Lisa Colautti of Burkardt, Weiss, Kramer, LLC told Sto-Rox school directors during the Sept. 16 agenda meeting.


Colautti’s comments came three days after a federal judge penned a 66-page opinion declaring Gov. Tom Wolf’s mass gathering restrictions unconstitutional.


Wolf meanwhile sought to have the ruling stayed – a legal term for hitting the pause button. The stay was denied, meaning school districts are not legally bound to the governor’s order.


Having spent months preparing for the current athletics season, school officials based initial plans on the restrictions now undermined by the courts. With the recent ruling, some are now hopeful they can find ways to safely up game attendance.


“For now we’ve been advised to stay the course and stick to the 250 limit for outdoor and 25 for indoors,” said Aaron Thomas, Cornell’s superintendent. “We’re looking to re-evaluate after [our next game]… I’m interested in expanding to cover band parents, too.”


Thomas said the current limit on stadium sports provides enough seating for two teams – along with their coaches and parents — plus match officials and two bands.


The 25-person indoor limit covers the bare minimum required to pull off a basketball game, he added.


Carlynton officials approved a detailed athletics safety plan in August that prioritizes spectator groups into three tiers.


Tiers one and two include all persons essential to conduct a game – athletes, coaches, officials, event staff, medical staff and security – as well as media. Spectators, parents or otherwise, and vendors fall in tier three.


The plan permits only tiers one two to participate will the restriction on mass gatherings are in place. In light of the legal challenge against Wolf, Superintendent John Kreider said district officials are now working on amending the plan.


“We plan to include language that allows tier 3 spectators to safely attend,” Kreider wrote in an email.


When officials at Sto-Rox first began working on coronavirus-era athletic guidelines in June, they developed a similar tiered system, prioritizing players, coaches and media.


Sam Weaver, a high school principal who helped develop the plan, recently said it’s being revisited in light of the court ruling.


The Montour district announced new spectator guidelines Sept. 10 that broadly limit participation to 200 spectators at outdoor events, while restricting high school football and volleyball games to two tickets per participant.


Several indoor sports were not included in the announcement.


Montour issued accompanying guidelines, requiring all spectators to wear masks and practice social distancing. Seats will be marked accordingly.


Across the state, school sports policy has been an inflammatory issue in recent months, with Wolf issuing a non-binding advisory in late August recommending schools postpone athletics activities until 2021. In response, the PIAA and WPIAL both charged Wolf with fear-mongering, and insisted games could continue safely if precautions were taken.


Several days before the federal court ruling, a bill passed through the state legislature that would give school districts “exclusive authority to determine whether to hold school sports activities, including competitions, intramural play and scrimmages, and other in-person extracurricular activities during the 2020-2021 school year.”


Wolf vetoed the bill, and an attempt by house representatives to override the governor’s decision failed to garner a two-third majority.


State Rep. Dan Deasy (D-27) initially voted for the bill but removed his support after Wolf’s veto. State Rep. Anita Kulik (D-45) supported the bill both times.


Legal analysts say the bill is no longer necessary while the federal court ruling holds.


Locally, all area public schools have resumed restricted athletics programming this year.

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