It’s best to let schools de­cide crowd lim­its

There’s no doubt that poli­cies con­cern­ing high school sports aren’t as im­por­tant as other health and eco­nomic is­sues re­lated to the COVID-19 pan­demic.

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OPINION -

But the fact re­mains that it’s a sub­ject that mat­ters a great deal to many peo­ple. That’s why it’s been a fre­quent topic of pas­sion­ate dis­cus­sion around Penn­syl­va­nia for the past month or so.

It looks as though we may have reached the point where the is­sue is set­tled, at least for the time be­ing.

Now that Gov. Tom Wolf’s re­stric­tions on gath­er­ing sizes are on hold due to a fed­eral court rul­ing, the is­sue of how many peo­ple may at­tend school sport­ing events is be­ing left in the hands of lo­cal school boards and ad­min­is­tra­tors.

We be­lieve that this is a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment. If lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials can be trusted to come up with plans for how to de­liver ed­u­ca­tion for this pan­demic, they should be able to make de­ci­sions on how to safely put on ath­letic con­tests and other events and al­low peo­ple to watch them. They know their fa­cil­i­ties and their com­mu­ni­ties well enough to make sen­si­ble de­ci­sions

The gov­er­nor and sec­re­tary of health have their hearts in the right place. We’ve sup­ported their ef­forts to pre­vent an out-of-con­trol spread of the virus. Large gath­er­ings cer­tainly can be dan­ger­ous, es­pe­cially if proper pre­cau­tions aren’t taken.

But when it comes to the is­sue of school sports, the Wolf ad­min­is­tra­tion has been send­ing mixed mes­sages. Ba­si­cally school dis­tricts and ath­letic con­fer­ences were be­ing told that the state didn’t like the idea of re­sum­ing sports in the fall but would leave the is­sue in lo­cal hands. Yet the state still wanted to be the one that de­cided how many peo­ple could be at each game.

The Wolf ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lim­its of no more than 25 peo­ple, in­clud­ing par­tic­i­pants, at in­door events and up to 250 out­doors pre­sented a num­ber of prob­lems.

For starters, some in­door sports have more than 25 par­tic­i­pants. Fol­low­ing the let­ter of the rules would re­quire some re­serve play­ers and oth­ers in­volved in the game to stay out­side the gym. And foot­ball in­volves large teams with plenty of coaches and sup­port staff. If bands and cheer­lead­ers are to at­tend, it’s easy to ap­proach or ex­ceed the state limit be­fore any­one else is al­lowed to watch.

As long as school dis­tricts en­act sen­si­ble poli­cies and en­force them, al­low­ing more peo­ple at games should not be a prob­lem.

Most high school sports don’t draw tremen­dous crowds. Spread­ing out those in at­ten­dance shouldn’t be a prob­lem even in smaller venues.

As for foot­ball, sta­di­ums are big enough to ac­com­mo­date more than 250 peo­ple safely, al­low­ing for at­ten­dance by those clos­est to the game par­tic­i­pants and for at least some of the pomp and color that tra­di­tion­ally go with the games.

We be­lieve it’s only right to al­low lim­ited at­ten­dance at games. While there’s no doubt that par­tic­i­pa­tion in sports of­fers many ben­e­fits, it’s some­thing of an empty ex­pe­ri­ence if there’s no one there to watch the games.

We trust that school lead­ers will ap­proach this care­fully as they have other as­pects of the re­turn to classes this fall. If prob­lems do ma­te­ri­al­ize, they must be pre­pared to ad­just. And they must be vig­i­lant about mak­ing sure peo­ple fol­low the rules of so­cial dis­tanc­ing and wear­ing masks. We urge those who have the op­por­tu­nity to at­tend games to keep this in mind and not en­gage in be­hav­ior that jeop­ar­dizes the avail­abil­ity of this op­por­tu­nity.

It’s our hope that a suc­cess­ful fall sports sea­son will en­able dis­tricts to find ways to al­low au­di­ences for other school ac­tiv­i­ties, most notably per­form­ing arts.

Ev­ery­one should un­der­stand that this is not go­ing to be a typ­i­cal school year and be pre­pared to ac­cept it. But if schools safely can pro­vide at least some cher­ished ex­pe­ri­ences to their students and fam­i­lies, they ab­so­lutely should do so. And if schools do get this ac­com­plished safely, the gov­er­nor and his ad­min­is­tra­tion should let the is­sue go no mat­ter what judges de­cide.

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