Third Circuit Temporarily Reinstates School Gathering Crowd Limits

Third Circuit Temporarily Reinstates Crowd Limits for School Gatherings

Posted on October 2nd, 2020
by John E. Freund, III

Earlier this week, we published SLB 278 on the latest information with regards to crowd limits for school sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the Third Circuit has since temporarily reinstated Governor Wolf’s gathering size limits while the Commonwealth appeals the Pittsburgh district court’s ruling in the County of Butler case, ruling Governor Wolf’s orders as unconstitutional. 

Some school districts, relying on the district court’s ruling, had been allowing high school football games to be played in front of crowds.  In a strictly legal sense, this could restore the ability of the state to enforce the 250 person limit for outdoor gatherings. In light of the overwhelming number of schools who have drafted attendance policies to allow crowds in excess of that perhaps somewhat arbitrary number, we encourage school leaders to take all factors into account and proceed with caution.

The Morning Call, reporting on the ruling, said office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro asked the Philadelphia-based appeals court to intervene after Stickman declined to stay his own order. Shapiro’s office said crowd-size limits and other statewide public health orders are “life-saving mitigation tools” against the virus, and warned that “eliminating the congregate limits during the pendency of this appeal will result in people’s deaths.”

Now that Governor Wolf’s gathering restrictions are back in place, he said he is willing to compromise with school districts. The Philadelphia Inquirer stated Governor Wolf plans on collaborating with school districts to reassess gathering limits in the context of high school sporting events. However, since Judge Stickman’s opinion, some school districts have implemented plans and policies to allow more fans at high school football games. The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Governor Wolf, saying he is working with schools and surrounding communities to update the guidelines and make them more “reasonable.”

Bottom Line for Schools

While the stay is in place, strictly speaking, the Governor’s original 250/25 crowd limitations are now legally enforceable, but it is unreasonable to have districts immediately roll back spectator policies they adopted in reliance on Judge Stickman’s opinion. There is every reason to believe that the Governor will very shortly announce new, more flexible guideline for spectator attendance.  At that time, schools should quicky reassess their policies in light of new guidance.  In the meantime, until new crowd size guidance is issued,  strict adherence to masking and social distancing requirements at sporting events is the best course to avoid legal entanglements.

If you have a question, please contact your legal counsel or one of the Education attorneys at KingSpry.

School Law Bullets are a publication of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.