Pa. Department of Education urges school districts to follow recommended crowd guidelines

The (Carlisle) Sentinel (TNS)
Gov. Tom Wolf

The Pennsylvania Department of Education issued new guidance Friday that recommends school districts stick with the current limits when it comes to indoor and outdoor high school sporting events during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

A memo went out to school districts from the education department asking schools to follow the state’s earlier guidance, which has attendance limits of 250 for outdoor games and 25 for indoor games.

“School entities remain responsible for enforcing the face covering order and requiring social distancing at school and at all school events, including school sporting events. The administration encourages schools to voluntarily enforce the 25- person indoor and 250-person outdoor gathering limitation while all of us wait for the court to rule on the stay request,” the DOE said in the statement on its website.

“We trust that school leaders understand the critical importance of maintaining the health and safety of our school communities, and further trust that they will continue to maintain strong social distancing and face covering policies necessary to contain and mitigate this virus.”

Based on numerous reports, schools in the York-Adams League adhered to the state's recommendations during the opening of the high school football season over the weekend.

On Monday, a federal court in the Western District of Pennsylvania issued a decision striking down some of the COVID-related orders — which Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is appealing — which was limited to the business closure order and the stay-at-home orders.

Only in recent weeks did Wolf lift the ban on spectators at events, but the limitation on total people — 250 outdoors and 25 indoors — remained in effect, which particularly impacts high school football, girls volleyball and water polo.

The orders saw a lot of kickback from angry parents and spectators. Several school districts openly defied the guidelines in recent weeks as some sports have returned throughout the state, some allowing several hundred fans in bleachers, with some pictures on social media, including one at McKeesport on Sept. 11, circulating showing very few fans wearing masks.

Wilson School District in Berks County moved forward with allowing 609 fans, all via vouchers for parents of players and cheerleaders, at Friday’s game. Wilson was among the first school districts that had a school board vote to have more fans than the state allowed.

“The ruling was not a blanket end to the mitigation orders put in place to protect residents of the commonwealth from the deadly COVID-19 virus and we must all stay the course to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. Indeed, all other orders of the governor and Secretary of Health remain in effect, including the order on face coverings,” the statement said.

The rules said everyone in attendance, including players, coaches, event staff, officials, media members, fans and family members, count against the venue’s capacity limit, which cannot exceed 50%.

A bipartisan-backed bill — Bill 2787 — still sits on Wolf’s desk that would allow local schools to not only have the authority to decide whether to hold sports and other activities, but also how many people could attend them. He said he is set to veto the bill and has until Monday to do so.

The PIAA has asked all schools to adhere to the state’s guidelines until such time that they change.