The Ellwood City School District will allow up to 1,000 people to its homecoming football game Friday night despite a recommendation from the school board's solicitor to continue following Gov. Tom Wolf's guidance on capacity limits.
Current guidance from the state caps attendance at outdoor gatherings at 250 people. The board's decision means a quarter of the 4,000-capacity Helling Stadium can attend Friday's game between the Wolverines (0-2) and Beaver Falls (2-0). The capacity total includes both teams, staff, cheerleaders, band members and spectators.
"There's a lot of uncertainty, so that's why I would recommend staying with the 250 (person cap for outdoors), 25 (person cap for indoors) unfortunately for right now," said Jennifer Dambeck of Beard Legal Group in Altoona. "But again, (it's) the board's decision on what you guys would like to do."
The limit will go into effect immediately and will affect all indoor and outdoor sports. Both outdoor and indoor games will be allowed up to a quarter of capacity on a first-come, first-served basis at the gate. Lincoln High School's biggest gymnasium has a capacity of 700 people, meaning the board's actions now allow up to 175 people to be present inside for events held there.
Guests will also be asked to sign waivers before entering the event in order to protect the district and board from being potentially sued.
"It would be nice after losing prom and losing so much to give them homecoming," said board president Renee Pitrelli.
Pitrelli was joined in voting yes with board members Erica Gray, Jennifer Tomon, Jean Biehls, Matt Morella and Barbara Wilson. Gary Rozanski voted against the measure, while Kathleen McCommons and Norman Boots were absent for the vote.
Prior to the vote, the board discussed the possibility of not setting a maximum number of attendees as well as restricting tickets to two per athlete, band member and cheerleader.
Both recommendations were shot down when some board members voiced their concern over being sued for violating First Amendment rights by restricting the public from attending. Dambeck, whose hesitance stemmed from potentially losing insurance coverage over the vote, advised if someone did sue on First Amendment grounds, they would have to prove attending a football game is a Constitutional right.
The decision may be reversed before Friday's game depending on legal matters from the state. House Bill 2787 would allow school districts to set their own attendance caps, but Wolf vetoed the legislation Monday. A bill can become a law and override a veto if both chambers of the General Assembly gain a two-thirds supermajority. The state House, where the bill will be revoted on first, is not in session until next Tuesday.
Masks and social distancing signs will be posted in sports venues. Mask wearing will be self-enforced, according to the school board.