Take Action: Urge Legislators to Pass COVID-19 Liability for Schools Protection during Dec. 21 Special Session
Gov. Brown has set a special session for Dec. 21, and among the issues expected to be addressed is legal liability related to COVID-19. Without it, many school districts will be unable to expand beyond limited in-person instruction. Last week many members contacted legislators to urge them to address liability protection for schools if there was a a special session. We appreciate all of the quick action and messages to legislators across the state. Now we ask that you send a quick note to your legislator in the next 24 hours thanking them for hearing your concerns and urging them to support the liability protection legislation at next week’s special session.
Why Liability Matters to Oregon Schools
Oregon schools have been working tirelessly to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic and to minimize disruptions to our children’s education. But despite their best efforts, distance learning cannot replace what is provided in the classroom – particularly for students struggling with connectivity issues and our traditionally underserved students.
Without clear legislative action to address COVID-19 related lawsuits, it will be difficult for many districts to expand the reopening to more than limited in-person instruction. Schools’ liability insurance policies do not offer coverage for the risk of unintentional spread of COVID-19. This means that one lawsuit could severely impact a district’s finances, along with its ability to serve Oregon students.
As noted by Campus Safety magazine, “nearly all school [districts’] liability insurance coverage specifically excludes claims related to viral infection or transmission.” (CampusSafetyMagazine.com, May 27, 2020)
Oregon School Boards Association Executive Director Jim Green spoke to this issue over the summer:
School districts are very concerned… [I]f they don’t have insurance or they don’t have some sort of limited liability protection, they’ve said it’s going to be really hard for them to [fully] open their doors and put the assets of the district at risk. (The Oregonian, July 29, 2020)
What Do Oregon Education Leaders Think?
Board members, superintendents, students, and other stakeholders from across Oregon are weighing in to urge legislative action. Here’s what they’re saying:
Uncertainty about COVID-19 liability is creating significant challenges as schools consider how to resume in-person instruction. Schools that are complying with state and federal COVID-19 guidelines need temporary liability protections until this crisis passes. A smart, balanced approach will still ensure accountability for reckless or intentional misconduct while protecting schools so they can move forward. That is why the Legislature must act now to address this issue.
Published 11/30/20; Revised 12/8/20; Revised 12/17/20