Call the governor: Loudoun Co. school leaders decry audience limits on plays, concerts

The interim superintendent and school board members in Loudoun County, Virginia, have asked parents to lobby Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s Department of Education over capacity restrictions that would affect school plays and concerts.

During a school board meeting Tuesday, Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler and board members decried how Northam’s current executive order holds far more severe restrictions for fine arts performances than school sporting events or independent entertainment venues.

“A school performance is still classified as a social gathering” with a current maximum of 50 people, Ziegler said — far below indoor entertainment venues, which can seat the lesser of 30% capacity or 250 people.

Ziegler, who said he had contacted the Department of Education to verify he was reading the restrictions and guidance correctly, took the rare step of encouraging parents go over his head: “I would suggest that parents and students who have concerns about this lobby at the state level.”

School board member Jeff Morse was critical of what Northam has deemed important to reopen: “Governor Northam is prioritizing sports, and big company venues, over education.”

“We’re talking about an educational environment where parents and family members are going to watch their children, some of who have been preparing for four years, learning the arts so [they] could perform in front of their parents,” Morse said. “And we’re not going to give them that opportunity because we’re calling it a social gathering.”

Ziegler said the guidance he received from state education officials is that VDOE is concerned that socializing before and after a school performance would be risky.

School board member Leslee King suggested the executive order had things backward: “This is not like a sporting event, where people are yelling and screaming. These people are sitting quietly, listening to concerts, or watching a play that their child is in.”

“At the end of a scene, or the end of the performance, they may stand up and clap — I’m sure they would,” King said. “That’s not a big thing — parents won’t be socializing; they just want to see their children perform.”

Ziegler said he had considered ignoring Northam’s executive order.

“Penalties for violation is guilty of a misdemeanor with possible fines and jail time, so I don’t recommend that we ignore Executive Order 72 in order to raise these gathering limits.”

WTOP has contacted Northam’s office for comment.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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