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Altoona Area School District bucks Wolf on sports attendance

The Altoona Area School Board voted to allow 25% capacity at indoor and outdoor sporting events, going against Gov. Tom Wolf’s reinstated mandate.

The decision passed with a 6-3 vote. A federal appeals court last week reinstated the governor’s limitation on sporting events of 250 people at outdoor events and 25 for indoor events.

Altoona’s decision will require that attendees wear masks and that the district place signs advising people that they are incurring a risk by attending.

District officials said this would translate to an approximate maximum of 600 people allowed at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse and 2,500 at Mansion Park.

Sharon Bream, David Francis, Eric Haugh, Kelly Irwin Adams, Ron Johnston and Ed Kreuz voted in favor of the measure. Mike Baker, Rick Hoover and Frank Meloy voted against.

Bream, board president, said the district is “doing a disservice to players and families” by only allowing the limits of 250 and 25 at events under the governor’s rules.

Baker said although he also wanted events at full capacity, he was deferring to the district solicitor’s advice, which is that the board adhere to the governor’s mandate.

Superintendent Charles Prijatelj said CM Region, one of the district’s insurance carriers, told him the district would be legally liable if it violated Wolf’s mandate and something “COVID-19-related” happens.

Adams questioned the ability of someone in a legal suit to be able to trace a COVID-19 case back to a football game. Elizabeth Benjamin, the district’s solicitor, said regardless, if the district is sued and denied coverage, it would still have to pay its defense costs. She said the district might win in the long run but could still have to defend a losing case without coverage.

After the meeting, Meloy, board vice president, said that if insurance did not cover those legal fees, the board would have to find money in the general fund — something he said the board didn’t cover in the meeting.

Still, Meloy said what he saw at the meeting was “a real concern” from fellow board members to allow parents to see their children play. He said although this will increase the maximum capacity to 2,500 at Mansion Park, there shouldn’t be a problem with social distancing.

The board brought the new motion to vote after the original motion to align the district’s health and safety policy with Wolf’s mandate and potential future changes did not pass.

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