As planning continues for school districts around the state on how to best conduct the new school year for their students and staff, insurance was a part of a recent discussion by state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, and Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale.
As of June 30, PACE insurance, which covers a majority of school districts in Oregon, will no longer provide liability insurance for schools against lawsuits related to COVID-19.
“This means any student, staff member, parent, or private citizen who contracts COVID on school property or at a school event would be able to sue the school district,” Owens and Findley said in a press release.
The release said, without liability insurance, some schools are deciding to not open since it will leave them vulnerable to lawsuits, which could financially impact a school for years.
Findley was hopeful a bill would be passed to address this matter during the special session in June, but it did not happen.
“One thing I was disappointed to see not pass in the special session was liability protection for schools and private businesses in Oregon from COVID-19 related suits,” Findley said. “Without any sort of liability protection, schools will not be able to open in the fall, and businesses who follow all OHA safety guidelines could still be held liable for the natural spread of COVID-19.”
Grant School District 3 Superintendent Bret Uptmor said, while PACE will not cover COVID-19 and other communicable diseases as far as a liability, their insurance coverage will continue as planned. He said his hope is that, legislatively, something is done to reduce the risk of lawsuits in the coming school year.
“We would like to come back to school in the fall and not be worried because we’re in person and somebody might get COVID that we would be responsible for,” Uptmor said. “Now, if we’re irresponsible in our actions, then it makes sense we would be held accountable, but most of us have been planning very heavily to be very responsible.”
Uptmor added that he hopes that, in the July special session, legislators would develop a plan to protect schools from liability.
Insurance has been a concern for more than just schools.
The Grant County Library had been preparing for a chance to begin reopening with curbside service, but unanswered questions have prevented the library from reopening so far.
“We just have to know exactly how long to quarantine our books,” Grant County Librarian Vicki Bond said. “It has to come from the governor’s mouth. That way our county insurance will cover it if somebody claims they got COVID from us or one of our books.”
She said the library is now planning to offer curbside service by appointment only starting Monday, July 13. For more information, call 541-575-1992 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insurance was also part of the decision not to open Gleason Pool for the 2020 swimming season.
At a John Day City Council meeting, Lisa Weigum, a board member of the John Day-Canyon City Parks and Recreation District, said their insurance provider told her Gleason Pool would have to be in complete compliance at all times with the rules for reopening. If their provider heard that they were not in compliance, Parks and Rec would not have liability coverage if somebody were to contract COVID-19 at the pool.
The county was also awaiting guidance from its insurance provider. County Commissioner Jim Hamsher cited the a lack of clarity from CIS, the county’s insurance company, as the cause for a lack of clarity in the county’s COVID-19 guidelines.
Grant County Judge Scott Myers said the insurance company would cover a claim as long as the county follows all of the governor’s COVID-19 guidelines.