Panel votes to allow local schools to decide on sports

By Medianews Group

School districts will be allowed to make their own decisions on fall sports and activities, regardless of the positions of the governor or the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association under a bill that passed the Senate Education Committee Friday.

House Bill 2787 overwhelming passed the Senate Education Committee by a vote of 10 to 1. Senator Daylin Leach was the sole opposing vote.

State Senator Andy Dinniman, D-West Whiteland, minority chair of the committee, spoke in favor of the bill citing the need for districts to provide clear direction during a time of confusing, chaotic, and often contradictory guidance. He also called for legislation to protect districts from liability regarding the return to in-person classes, sports, and activities.

“As we continue to work our way through this pandemic, unfortunately the 2020 back-to-school season has been characterized by uncertainty and confusion for so many parents, students, and families and sports has been no exception,” Dinniman said. “School districts, like each one of us individually, are largely entrusted to make their own decisions regarding fall sports. This bill clarifies and reinforces the role of local control in districts and school boards making decisions that they believe are right for their students, athletes, and coaches.”

Under House Bill 2787, “the governing authority of a school entity or nonpublic school shall have the exclusive authority to determine whether to hold school sports activities, including competitions, intramural play and scrimmages, and other in-person extracurricular activities during the 2020-2021 school year.”

The bill comes in response to evolving guidance from the administration regarding the safe resumption of fall sports, activities and in-person classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 10, 2020, the Governor’s Office and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) issued Preliminary School Sports’ Guidance for schools, allowed each school to resume sports-related activities and to develop their own Athletic, Health and Safety Plan. PDE’s PK-12 Athletic Health and Safety Plan Template stated: “The decision to resume sportsrelated activities, including conditioning, practices and games, is within the discretion of a school entity’s governing body.”

On July 29, PIAAreleased its guidance for fall sports, recognizing that schools have different approaches to their return to school plans, and offered flexibility to schools, leagues, and conferences.

On August 6, Governor Wolf recommended that sports should not resume until January 2021. The PIAA seemed blindsided by the announcement and asked him to reconsider.

On August 21, the PIAA board of directors ignored the governor’s recommendation and voted to let fall sports start as scheduled, with individual school districts deciding whether and which sports to play.

In Chester County, the Chester County Health Department followed Wolf’s guidance, recommending that all sports programs in the county postpone activities until at least the beginning of the new year. As a result, at least one school district that had planned to go ahead with limited sports and activities canceled its season. The decision also prompted the Ches-Mont League and Central League to postpone their fall seasons.

The governor eased the administration’s guidance on spectators at fall sporting events, allowing up to 250 people at outdoor events and 25 people at indoor events.

House Bill 2787 allows schools to make their own decisions to move forward with fall sports,

provided they develop an athletic, health and safety plan to be submitted to PDE, as well as safety protocols, limits on gatherings, methods of ensuring social distancing, and rules to ensure those protocols are followed.

The bill, which passed the House yesterday by a vote of 155-47, will now go to the Senate floor.