‘This is about local control’: House GOP rolls out fall sports, school reopening bills

    State Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland, speaks during a Capitol news conference on Tuesday, 8/11/20 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

    Days after the Wolf administration recommended the optional postponement of the fall sports season, a Republican lawmaker says he wants to take that power out of the administration’s hands and give decision-making power back to local school districts.

    At a news conference Tuesday, Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland, said the Democratic administration’s abrupt announcement last week “sent shockwaves” through Pennsylvania’s athletic community, and sent the state’s main sanctioning body, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, scrambling to set policy.

    “Why now, right before the academic year begins, are schools not able to make their own decisions about sports?” Reese said in a statement issued by his office. “Will similar announcements be forthcoming about regarding other extracurricular activities? These should be local decisions.”

    Last week, in a joint statement, the Departments of Health and Education said the guidance was only a “strong recommendation” and “not an order or mandate.”

    “As with deciding whether students should return to in-person classes, remote learning or a blend of the two this fall, school administrators and locally elected school boards should make decisions on sports,” the statement reads.

    Wolf administration recommends schools cancel sports until Jan. 2021

    Reese was joined at Tuesday’s news conference by Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, who rolled out a bill that would allow students to repeat a year of schooling to make up for any ground lost during the pandemic-induced shutdown this spring.

    Repeating a longstanding Republican complaint, Reese and Topper both faulted the administration for not showing the data it has used to make many of its reopening decisions. During a briefing Monday, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine admitted that there wasn’t “a lot of granular data,” used to formulate what is still optional guidance on fall sports.

    In a briefing with journalists, Levine, a pediatrician by training, said the decision to recommend postponing all interscholastic athletics until January 2021 came from mainly from national data. Levine did not cite any local or state-level data that drove the decision, FOX-43 in York reported.

    Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, who has fought the administration over access to its decision-making processes, said Tuesday that the administration needs to be more transparent in how it formulates policy.

    “The people of Pennsylvania are not dumb,” said Grove, who, as a member of the General Assembly, is exempt from Pennsylvania’s open records law. “The people of Pennsylvania understand data.”

    On Tuesday, GOP lawmakers, many of whom were not wearing masks and stood clumped together, insisted that fall sports could be safe if athletes wore masks and observed social distancing guidelines. They also said that depriving students of fall sports would rob them of such critical life lessons as the importance of fair play and learning to accept defeat gracefully.

    It was not immediately clear Tuesday when, or if, the Reese’s and Topper’s bills would be brought to a vote. The Republican-controlled House is not scheduled to return to session until Sept. 15, well after classes resume across Pennsylvania.

    John L. Micek
    A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press