The contribution of OSBA's membership was crucial to the Legislature’s ratification of these protections. School board members and administrators identified potential harm from liability litigation as an obstacle to safely returning students and staff to school buildings. As part of the coordinated campaign, school board members, administrators and interested community members contacted their legislators more than 12,000 times, including more than 8,000 contacts leading up to the third special session. This bill represents the accomplishment of the immediate legislative priority for OSBA since the COVID-19 pandemic's onset.
Other bills included renter and landlord protections during the COVID-19 period, funding allocations to address agency wildfire needs, and a bill to bolster restaurants by permitting sales of “to go” cocktails and alcoholic beverages.
The day of the session began with a large right-wing political rally on the Capitol steps. The Oregon State Police declared the unregistered protest to be an unlawful assembly. The protesters attempted to break into the Capitol. Some vandalism occurred, including broken windows and the pulling of a fire alarm. Protestors were repelled by state and local police and a small number of protesters were arrested.
Inside the building, legislators worked on.
There was consensus during HB 4402 debate that public schools needed protection from lawsuits, but the inclusion of private schools was more controversial.
“I do have reservations,” Rep. Teresa Alonso León, D-Woodburn, said in committee, when discussing the amendment to include private schools in the liability protections. She said private schools had not participated in discussions and testified adequately and that the issue could be decided in the upcoming long session.
Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby, the sponsor of the amendment to include private schools, cited multiple pieces of testimony submitted on behalf of private schools. In the end, the committee endorsed the amendment, and the amended bill passed in the House and Senate.
HB 4402 would protect public school districts, community colleges, education service districts, public charter schools and private K-12 schools from lawsuits alleging COVID-19-related damages during the COVID-19 emergency. The bill requires districts to follow all state and federal guidance to be protected.
For school districts, the passage of HB 4402 represents a policy success that has been months in coming. One legislator, in particular, deserves recognition. Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, a former member of the Hillsboro School Board, sponsored the bill and has been a champion on the issue. She got a well-deserved win with the passage of the bill.
“We need to act now,” Sollman said on the House floor Monday, so that schools can “reopen when allowed to do so and have confidence in the much-needed safety net to protect classroom and educational dollars.”
The bill goes to Brown, who has not said she has concerns with the measure.