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KC parent questions cap on spectators

MILL HALL — The future of spectators at scholastic sporting events continues to be the center of attention at schools throughout the state. At Thursday night’s Keystone Central school board meeting, one concerned parent spoke up and addressed the board.

Tina Eisenhower, the mother of a student at Central Mountain Middle School, spoke to the board via Zoom. Eisenhower said that her daughter participates in both volleyball and cheerleading. She was upset about the restrictions being put on attendance at sporting events. As it stands, outdoor sports events — such as soccer and football — are capped at 250. Indoor events — such as volleyball — are capped at 25.

“I know that there’s a mandate by the governor. I guess the question is: Is it a mandate? Is it a law? Do we have ways that we can go around it? The biggest concern for us is safety for our kids. What if they get hurt at one of the events and we are not there? And also the fact that we are allowing other schools to have visitors before the parents (of students) who go to this school,” Eisenhower said.

KCSD superintendent Jacquelyn Martin addressed Eisenhower’s concerns during her report.

“I have been contacted by several parents who have the same position on the spectator events for our Friday night football games at Central Mountain High School and the desire to have the parents of underclassmen also have opportunities to attend events,” Martin said. “Mrs. Eisenhower says that she’s speaking for a group and I can verify that as there were at least four other parents who have contacted me directly with the same concern.”

Last week, Martin said that the intention was to distribute tickets for sporting events to parents of senior football players, band members and cheerleaders. However, the district had to revise its plan because the Pennsylvania Heartland Conference has asked member schools to provide tickets for visiting families as well.

“We were the only school that was in favor of not permitting visiting spectators. Therefore, it was agreed that we would work with the league and be a team player because we felt that was the right thing to do. The league wanted to have a consensus. Since then, we have some disenchanted parents and rightfully so. I really believe that regardless of what we decide, we are going to have disenchanted parents,” Martin said.

While the district has no intention of exceeding the 250 limit, there is currently a bill on the desk of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf that could change the attendance limits. The bill would give a school district or private school sole authority to decide whether and how to conduct sports during the tumultuous 2020-21 school year.

The bill (No. 2787) passed the Pennsylvania state Senate on Wednesday, 39-11 — just a week after it passed the House. The Republican-controlled Legislature has tried to limit the powers Wolf has used under health and emergency disaster laws during the COVID-19 pandemic to limit crowds and activities.

The bill gives a school district or private school sole authority to decide whether to conduct sports during the 2020-21 school year, including games, scrimmages and other in-person extracurricular activities. It also gives school districts the power to determine safety protocol and crowd limits.

Both chambers approved it by veto-proof two-thirds majorities.

But Wolf’s office said it was unnecessary since “school districts already have local control on decisions on school sports” and suggested that it was irresponsible because it would allow districts to green-light big crowds at sporting events that help spread the virus.

“This bill would allow for the potential gathering of thousands in close proximity, a widely-reported, well-known public health risk,” Wolf’s office said in a release. “We should focus on preventing the spread and creating a safe environment for children students back to learning and, if possible, in the classroom. Minimizing exposure to COVID-19 is paramount.”

Wolf will likely let the bill sit on his desk before vetoing it next week. Until then, the limits of 25 at indoor events and 250 at outdoor events stand. Those attending games will be expected to wear masks and social distance.

“That is a hard limit,” Martin said of the spectator numbers. “The PIAA said that they expect all schools to follow the 250 limit for total number of bodies at an event … the PIAA’s argument about keeping sports open is weakened if schools are violating the 250 limit. At this time, I do not recommend — in any way — that we violate that limit.”

KCSD will meet again at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1 for a work session.

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