District 3 executive director weighs in on liability issues of playing during pandemic

York Suburban wideout David Moye avoids tackles by Josh Vipperman, left, and Steven Lukes of Kennard-Dale during a game last September. The PIAA has given its OK to play scholastic sports this fall. Many schools, however, still have questions about the liability issues of holding events during a pandemic. Ronald Kennedy, the District 3 executive director, addressed those questions on Monday.
  • District 3 executive director Ron Kennedy updated member schools on liability issues.
  • Generally, public schools fall under the umbrella of institutions that have "sovereign Immunity."
  • Sovereign immunity prevents government entities from being sued in most cases.

Now that schools have the OK from the PIAA to play scholastic sports this fall, the main question on many minds is: Who will be legally responsible if a student-athlete or coach contracts COVID-19?

Generally, public schools fall under the umbrella of institutions that have "sovereign Immunity," which prevents government entities from being sued in most cases. That defense does not cover 100% of cases, however, and is mainly susceptible to negligence claims.

PIAA approves start of fall sports season, practices can begin Monday

During Monday afternoon’s District 3 board meeting, District 3 executive director Ron Kennedy updated member schools on the best practices to prevent potential lawsuits related to COVID-19 and sports.

Like what you're reading?:Not a subscriber? Click here for full access to The York Dispatch.

Kennedy said he had received questions from multiple schools, so he explained to them how "sovereign immunity" works, but added that it does not cover all claims. He highlighted the importance of schools ensuring that student-athletes and coaches are aware of the risks of COVID-19 and the symptoms. It was mentioned that schools should put up signs in their buildings and around their fields to make everyone aware of the risks of COVID-19, which may mitigate the effectiveness of any future lawsuits against the schools. 

Signing waivers: Kennedy also said that most member schools had their student-athletes sign waivers before the start of the fall sports seasons, which included COVID-19 information. When asked if schools were having athletes sign a document that says they understand they are taking a risk by playing their sport during a pandemic, Lampeter-Strasburg athletic director Branden Lippy said her school and many others will have athletes sign a participation waiver like any other year, which includes the possibility of contracting communicable diseases, including COVID-19.

“Our athletes at Lampeter-Strasburg are signing a waiver. I know there's many schools that are doing the same thing,” Lippy said.

Heart condition: One of the reasons linked to the cancellation of college fall seasons was myocarditis, a rare condition that causes inflammation of the heart muscle. 

That condition was found in several college athletes. Myocarditis is usually caused by a viral infection and can cause heart damage and sudden cardiac arrest. ESPN reported that limited studies since March suggest the condition is more likely in COVID-19 cases than other viral infections.

Officials issue: In addition to the liability concerns for schools, it was brought up that officials are worried about their ability to be sued if an athlete could prove they contracted COVID-19 from a referee.

Officials don’t fall under the PIAA’s insurance coverage and many of them were concerned after finding out that if they officiate a game where a player or coach tests positive for COVID-19 they aren’t required to stop working games for 14 days.

The reasoning as to why they won't need to skip contests was provided during Monday’s meeting. That reasoning is that officials are rarely within six feet of the athletes for 15 consecutive minutes.

Postseason schedule: Also, the board officially approved the postseason plans for fall sports.

Higher-seeded teams will host the playoff contests and all championships must be played on a turf field. The amount of teams that will reach the postseason will be limited in each classification.

At this time, there is no amount of games required for teams to play to reach the District 3 postseason. Games where one team is unable to play because of a COVID-19 positive test will count as a no contest. There is also no deadline currently for teams to announce if they will opt out of the fall sports season.

Despite uncertainty, District 3 lays out revised postseason plans for fall sports

Football schedule: For football playoffs, the schedule is: 

  • 1-A, 2-A: two teams qualifying, championship games only, to be played Oct. 30/31.
  • 3-A, 6-A: four teams qualifying, semifinals on Oct. 30/31, and championships on Nov. 6/7.
  • 4-A, 5-A: four teams qualifying, semifinals on Nov. 6-7, and championships on Nov. 13-14.

The final football power rankings will be announced on Oct. 26. That means for the 4-A and 5-A football teams, their final Oct. 31 regular-season contests will have no affect on their postseason position.

Soccer quarterfinals will begin on Nov. 4, with the semifinals on Nov. 7 and championships on Nov. 10. Golf championships will be Oct. 8/9.

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.