In postseason, PIAA might require schools to certify mask-wearing exemptions in writing

CHRIS HARLAN
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
York Catholic's Caden Boeckel, front, works to get past Bermudian Springs' Jalen Martinez during boys' basketball action at York Catholic High School in York City, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Athletes competing in basketball and wrestling have been required to wear masks during competition by the York-Adams League. Dawn J. Sagert photo

With many high school winter sports teams competing maskless, the PIAA may require postseason participants to certify in writing that their athletes qualify for an exemption under the state mandate.

The agenda for Wednesday's PIAA board meeting includes a document titled "PIAA Postseason COVID-19 Universal Face Covering Certification." The form would require principals or athletic directors to "certify that each of the following players qualify for an individual medical exemption, specific to their individual health condition, from wearing a mask during a contest."

If the PIAA board puts the form into use, only those athletes listed would be permitted to compete in the postseason without a mask.

The universal mask mandate was ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf's administration as a mitigation effort for coronavirus spread. The York-Adams League has complied with that mandate, requiring all of its basketball players and wrestlers to wear a mask while competing.

However, some school districts in the state have widely disagreed over who qualifies for an exemption since it was first enacted in November.

PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said the form was presented by a member of the strategic planning committee from a district already requiring certification. But it's undecided whether the PIAA would force schools in all 12 of its districts to start using the form.

"We will present it to the Board on Wednesday to see if they would like to mandate it," Lombardi said in an email Sunday, "or provide it as a resource to have districts decide whether to use it or not."

As written, the form would apply to all sports except swimming. It notes that "everyone who participates in sports activities including coaches, athletes ... and spectators must wear a face covering, such as a mask, unless they fall under an exception in Section 3 of the ( Department of Health) Order."

Yet, schools have interpreted Section 3 exemptions in varying ways.

The language of the state's order says individuals are exempt from the mandate "if wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition, or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability."

Many school administrations have argued that wearing a mask during physical activity would cause respiratory issues, so they're not required during play. Others have gone person by person through the roster and exempted only those with relevant health conditions.

The form also makes clear that qualifiers for inter-district tournaments must be willing to compete against maskless opponents who have a school-certified exemption.

"A student or team choosing not to participate against any opponent will be required to forfeit that contest," according to the form.