HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP/KDKA) — Some Pennsylvania school districts are permitting more fans in the stands in the wake of a federal judge's ruling that tossed statewide pandemic limits on crowd size, while legislative Republicans prepared Wednesday to renew their push to enshrine local control of school sports into law.
The state Department of Education has asked schools to voluntarily comply with Democractic Gov. Tom Wolf's since-invalidated gathering restrictions, which had been set at 25 indoors and 250 outdoors until last week's court ruling that such limits were unconstitutional.
The Wolf administration is appealing that ruling, but a number of districts have already opted to go their own way, including the Altoona Area School District, which will allow up to 3,400 spectators at Mansion Park Stadium -- 33% of its capacity -- for Friday's game against Cumberland Valley. The Eastern Lancaster School District will allow up to 1,000 people into its stadium, and up to 148 for indoor events like girls volleyball.
Here in western Pennsylvania, Ellwood City Area School District is allowing up to 1,000 people at its homecoming game this Friday. Last week, Butler opened up their stadium, anticipating about 750 people to fill the stands that can hold about 6,800. The Karns City School District also opened up to fans.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body for school sports, told member schools that Wolf's caps aren't mandatory, "at least for the moment," and that each school can make its own decision on crowds at games.
"If schools decide to increase the 25/250 limits, they should exercise caution and good judgment in setting numbers for attendance at indoor and outdoor sports," wrote the PIAA's executive director, Robert Lombardi.
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- Butler Area School District To Open Stadium To More Than 250 Fans
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- Gov. Wolf Says He Won't Heed Republicans' 'Irresponsible Demands' After Judge Rules Against Virus Restrictions
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School districts want to see their students play sports and enjoy activities, and so do parents. But should that decision be solely on the districts themselves? The WPIAL says safety should be the focus.
"The schools are doing their best," said WPIAL Assistant to Executive Director Vince Sortino.
In an effort to bring "normalcy" to this school year, sports are being played at high schools, but for many, the stands are basically empty.
"Parents really want to be able to see their kids compete. At the same time, parents are really concerned too on the safety of their kids, but what parent would not be," said Sortino.
House Republicans, meanwhile, scheduled an override vote Wednesday on Wolf's veto of a bill that gives school districts the sole ability to make decisions on sports, including whether and how many spectators to allow. If it passes, the Senate would also have to vote to override.
Democratic lawmakers have shied away from defying a veto by Wolf, and Wolf has not lost an override vote since he became governor.
At a news conference Tuesday, Wolf said he monitored attendance at football games last weekend -- days after the judge's ruling -- and said "there were very few schools, if any, that had big, big crowds at their events." He surmised that people "self-regulated" and stayed away to avoid crowds.
Sortino said it's time to turn attention towards what's best for the community.
"We need to get back to what is really important for and best for our kids and our schools and our parents," said Sortino.
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