More Pa. school districts opt to exceed state limits on gatherings for sports events

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to media at York Grace Brethren Church in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The number of Pennsylvania school districts willing to exceed the state’s limits on outdoor and indoor gatherings is growing.

Monday night, LNP reported that the Eastern Lancaster County School District unanimously voted to increase its spectator limits at extracurricular events to 33% capacity, which translates roughly to 148 people indoors and 990 people outdoors.

According to the Associated Press, the Altoona Area School District will allow up to 3,400 spectators at Mansion Park Stadium – 33% of its capacity – for Friday’s game against Cumberland Valley.

The New Castle News, meanwhile, is reporting that Ellwood City School District will allow up to 1,000 people to its homecoming football game on Friday against Beaver Falls. Ellwood City is located in Lawrence County in western Pennsylvania.

Additionally, the (Greensburg) Tribune-Review is reporting that Hempfield school leaders are permitting between 175 and 200 people at girls' volleyball events and between 1,000 and 1,100 at football events. Hempfield is located in Westmoreland County.

The Eastern Lancaster County district is home to Garden Spot High School, which is a member of PIAA District 3, which also includes the schools in the York-Adams League.

To this point, none of the Y-A League members have opted to exceed the limits established by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf of 250 people for outdoor gatherings and 25 people on indoor gatherings. Those limits include anyone inside a facility, including players, coaches, officials, trainers, bands and cheerleaders, which leaves little or no room for fans.

The Y-A League football season opened this past Friday with limited or no fans. The Y-A League issued a statement last week recommending that its members abide by the Wolf guidance.

Wilson School District in Berks County, another District 3 member, moved forward last week with allowing 609 fans at its Friday game vs. Gov. Mifflin, all via vouchers for parents of players and cheerleaders.

During the first week of the PIAA football season, on Sept. 11, several schools in western Pennsylvania also exceeded Wolf’s limits, including Upper St. Clair, West Mifflin, McKeesport and Montour. That was according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Wolf’s limits have come under fire recently, both in the state Legislature and in the courts.

A bill has been overwhelmingly passed by both chambers of the state Legislature that would give school districts, not the state, the authority to set spectator limits at scholastic events. Wolf vetoed that bill on Monday, but, assuming there aren’t any voting defections, both chambers should have the votes to override Wolf’s veto.

Additionally, a federal judge in western Pennsylvania has ruled that Wolf’s limits on gatherings violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right of assembly. Wolf has promised to fight that ruling.

The PIAA, meanwhile, is scheduled to hold a meeting on Wednesday when the spectator limits will likely be addressed.

Reach Steve Heiser at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.