CEO Notebook |
Independent school leaders face one of the most challenging dilemmas of their careers as they consider reopening this fall for face-to-face learning. First and foremost, school leadership and trustees want to follow the best guidance available to create safe and healthy learning communities for students, faculty and staff. When guidance varies depending on context and local circumstances, however, it’s not easy to decide whether to start with face-to-face learning or an online learning alternative.
A critical question from a fiduciary perspective is this: “Even if we give our very best effort to safely welcome students, faculty and staff back to our campuses, will we be held liable if a member of our community becomes infected with COVID-19? Might we shoulder an even greater financial burden in addition to the investments we are making to ensure everyone’s safety?”
The American Council on Education, representing the nation’s colleges and universities, as well as business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been pushing for liability protection, fearing lawsuits as colleges and businesses reopen. Now Senate Republicans have proposed a safeguard for employers of America’s frontline workers, including teachers and school staff. The proposed legislation, currently under review by the Trump administration, would provide temporary protection from the trial bar for schools, colleges, nonprofits and businesses that follow public-health guidelines.
NBOA Legal Counsel Grace Lee of Venable LLP explained, “If passed, this legislation would provide much needed clarity to independent schools worried about potential personal injury cases despite taking reasonable efforts to implement safety measures and comply with public health guidelines.” Her understanding and insights into the proposal align with those outlined in a recent Inside Higher Ed article on the issue.
Some of the temporary protections that would apply to independent schools include:
Defendants could also move a case to federal court, which could be more favorable than state courts, according to the article. The changes being proposed would run through 2024.
While school leaders consider the best guidance available, the unique characteristics of their schools’ buildings and grounds as well as the demographics of their student populations, this legislation may provide additional peace of mind that schools will not be punished for their best efforts to consider the community’s needs.
Find updates, guidance and community discussions on NBOA's COVID-19 Resources for the Independent School Business Office.
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