Lawmakers Hope to Allow School Districts—Not Governor—to Set Crowd Size for Sporting Events

St. Joseph Prep's players run with the championship trophy to fans after a championship football game against Pine-Richland in Hershey, Pa. on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014. St Joseph won 49-41. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)

St. Joseph Prep's players run with the championship trophy to fans after a championship football game against Pine-Richland in Hershey, Pa. on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014. St Joseph won 49-41. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson) Associated Press

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Spectators are currently allowed at sporting events in Pennsylvania, but state limits on crowd sizes would make it difficult for many, if any, audience members to attend games. Proposed legislation aims to allow school districts to set their own limits.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania this week are expected to pass legislation allowing school districts to decide for themselves whether to allow spectators at fall sporting events, a proposal that would override restrictions put in place by Gov. Tom Wolf to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The bill, passed 155-47 by the House last week, would grant school districts “the exclusive authority” to decide whether to resume fall athletics and whether to allow spectators at outdoor and indoor games. Districts that decide to go ahead with fall sports would have to develop “athletic, health and safety” plans that establish safety protocols for spectators and set limits on “gatherings for indoor and outdoor sports” to ensure proper social distancing. Those plans would be posted on each school’s website,.

Under current restrictions on crowd size, it's unlikely that many spectators would be allowed at school sporting events. The legislation, introduced last month, was drafted in part to appease parents of student-athletes who were concerned they would not be able to watch their children play sports, said Rep. Mike Reese, a Republican from Westmoreland and the bill’s main sponsor.

“With fall sports and activities underway for school districts that have chosen to participate, the concern I’m now hearing about most is from parents who want to watch their children participate,” Reese said in a statement. “Just as individual school districts have been empowered to make important decisions about how to teach their students and whether or not to participate in sports and other activities, school officials should also get to decide if parents or other spectators are permitted and, if so, make it part of their health and safety plan for the school year. My bill gives them the authority to do so.”

School districts in Pennsylvania already have control over whether to pursue fall athletic seasons, though Gov. Tom Wolf had recommended that youth sports be canceled until at least January. Restarting them before then “presents significant health risks to participants and the public,” he said, but stopped short of mandating their cancellation, saying that “school administrators and locally elected school boards” should make their own decisions. 

The governor’s guidelines allow for spectators at sporting events, but each activity is required to adhere to crowd limits outlined in the state’s phased reopening plan—no more than 25 people at an indoor game and no more than 250 at an outdoor activity. Because everyone present at an activity—including the athletes—counts toward that limit, it’s unlikely that many audience members could attend games.

“We empower the local elected officials to come up with a health and safety plan on how to put fans in the stands,” Reese told the Morning Call.  “How to let moms, dads, grandmas, grandpaps, brothers and sisters watch their loved ones participating in these events.”

The bill was approved 10-1 last week by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Education Committee and heads next to the full Senate, where lawmakers hope to send it to Wolf’s desk before Friday night’s scheduled football games. It’s unclear whether the governor will sign it, though a spokeswoman said last week the legislation was redundant given that school districts already have control over fall sports.

“It’s too soon to say,” Lyndsay Kensinger told a local ABC affiliate. “But we oppose this current version because it’s unnecessary given that districts already have local controls.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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