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Bristol school leaders ask Northam to revisit crowd limit at outdoor venues

Bristol school leaders ask Northam to revisit crowd limit at outdoor venues

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BRISTOL, Va. — Bristol Virginia school leaders sent Gov. Ralph Northam a letter Friday asking him to revisit newly prescribed crowd limitations for upcoming high school football games.

Specifically, the letter asks that Virginia High School band members and cheerleaders be counted as participants and not included within the 250-spectator limit included in revised Executive Order 72. The order also directs that people sit 10 feet apart outdoors, compared to 6 feet apart indoors.

The city also presented two plans, one with those groups excluded from the 250 and one with them included. If roughly 60 band members and cheerleaders are included in the 250, it means Virginia High parents and family members would divide 130 tickets and opening game visitor Grundy High School would receive 60 tickets, or two per player.

The plans include different seating options, physical distancing, require masks and other mediation steps to limit possible spread of COVID-19.

In the letter, Superintendent Keith Perrigan cites the division’s significant safeguards used to conduct in-person learning since August with “a very limited number of positive cases, zero examples of in-school transmission and zero positive cases since returning to school from Christmas break.”

“When given the local autonomy to serve our community, we have demonstrated that we can do so in a safe manner with overwhelming success,” Perrigan wrote.

The plan doesn’t address band members and cheerleaders from visiting schools.

“To keep attendance at 250 spectators, instead of the 307 we are requesting, actually requires more space,” Perrigan wrote. “This is because limiting participants to only one parent in attendance, as required by the 250 limit, defeats the benefit of allowing family groups to sit together. This is another example of how bureaucracy in Richmond is disconnected from how operations actually work at the local level.”

Perrigan said band members and cheerleaders are “far more” than spectators.

“I request that you review the two plans for implementing a safe and effective outdoor sporting event, proposed by our local athletic department at Virginia High School and grant permission for us to implement the plan that acknowledges the importance of our band and cheer teams and the significance of their parents being there to support them,” Perrigan wrote.

School division attorneys “believe” the division can implement its plans without gubernatorial approval, based on the federal Title IX guidelines and exceptions within the executive order, according to the letter.

“However, in my role as superintendent, I feel that I need to demonstrate to our students the proper way to resolve disagreement with authority, policy and elected officials,” Perrigan wrote.

On Wednesday, Northam issued a revised Executive Order 72 limiting attendance to 250 spectators at outdoor school sporting events. The order specifies attendance be the lesser of 30% of a venue’s seating capacity or 250 “spectators per field.” Attendance at indoor sports events, including basketball, remains at 25 “spectators.”

Bristol’s Gene Malcolm Stadium has a seating capacity of 5,400 so the 30% figure equates to about 1,600 people.

The plans also include:

• Temperature checks for spectators and participants prior to entry.

• Health screening questions prior to entry.

• Face coverings, for nose and mouth, will be required for all spectators and participants except when actively playing.

• Social distancing for all spectators-(minimum 10 feet between non-family members).

• Pre-determined attendance lists for spectators and participants.

• Cashless transactions for tickets and concessions.

• Designated entrances and exits for different groups.

• Additional cleaning staff working at the venue.

This issue also attracted the attention of local lawmakers who Wednesday issued a joint letter to the governor, calling the limitation “arbitrary.” Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, and Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, specifically urged the governor to allow band members and cheerleaders to attend games and not be counted toward the 250-person limit.

dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC 

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