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Wolf Administration Asking Schools to “Voluntarily” Enforce Gathering Limits

(Photo by Jared Bakaysa of JB Graphics. See more of Bakaysa's work here)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania Governor Tom’ Wolf’s office tactfully admitted Friday that it couldn’t enforce the 25-person indoor limit and the 250-person outdoor limit on fans at high school sporting events, but asked schools to “voluntarily” enforce those regulations while reminding them they still had to follow other COVID-19 mitigation orders.

The letter came following a decision Monday, Sept. 14, by United States District Judge William Stickman IV who ruled that some of the Wolf administration’s pandemic policies, including the gathering limits, were unconstitutional. The Wolf administration is appealing the decision.

“School entities remain responsible for enforcing the face-covering order and requiring social distancing at school and at all school events, including school sporting events,” the letter from PDE said. “The administration encourages schools to voluntarily enforce the 25- person indoor and 250-person outdoor gathering limitation while all of us wait for the court to rule on the stay request.

“We trust that school leaders understand the critical importance of maintaining the health and safety of our school communities, and further trust that they will continue to maintain strong social distancing and face-covering policies necessary to contain and mitigate this virus.”

In his ruling, Stickman said Wolf had good intentions but overreached his authority.

“The court closes this opinion as it began, by recognizing that defendants’ actions at issue here were undertaken with the good intention of addressing a public health emergency,” Stickman wrote in his 66-page opinion. “But even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered. The liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms — in place when times are good but able to be cast aside in times of trouble.”

In the letter from the PDE, the Wolf administration pushed back and pointed out that the ruling didn’t impact other mitigation efforts undertaken by the administration.

“The actions taken by the Wolf Administration were mirrored by governors across the country and saved and continue to save lives. As such, the Wolf Administration has applied for a stay of the order and will appeal this decision. Nevertheless, we understand that you may be wondering how this development might impact your operations in the intervening time until the litigation comes to a resolution.

“The ruling was not a blanket end to the mitigation orders put in place to protect residents of the commonwealth from the deadly COVID-19 virus and we must all stay the course to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. Indeed, all other orders of the governor and Secretary of Health remain in effect, including the order on order on face coverings.”

Some schools, including Karns City and St. Marys, have said they will allow fans at football games tonight with certain restrictions. Others had decided, prior to the PDE letter, to take a wait-and-see approach.

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