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Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

New Assembly Bill Would Limit Schools Of Any Coronavirus-Related Liability

Students, Families would not be able to sue schools for any coronavirus-related illnesses, damages under AB 1384

By Evan Symon, July 3, 2020 5:09 pm

An updated bill that would limit the liability of schools for anything coronavirus related has gained traction in the state legislature and aims to be passed by the end of the current session in August.

Higher safety standards, reduced liability

Assembly Bill 1384, authored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), would make it difficult for parents or guardians to sue school districts for having cases or outbreaks occur at local schools. The bill makes it clear that schools that choose to have in-classroom learning this fall would need to “establish policies and procedures for operating programs and facilities in a manner consistent with applicable federal, state, and local legal and regulatory COVID-19-related requirements”. Federal, state, and local coronavirus guidelines would also be added at each school’s discretion.

If schools meet these standards, then the school, as well as the school system and all associated employees, would not be held liable or have to pay damages due to injuries from the coronavirus or any surrounding issues related to the virus.

AB 1384, however, will allow teachers and other employees to sue over coronavirus matters in certain situations, as well as giving ample compensation and protection in case of transmission.

Assemblyman O’Donnell, himself a high school teacher, had heavily amended an earlier form of the bill to focus on schools during the coronavirus pandemic. The Assemblyman authored AB 1384 to protect school districts against lawsuits to help schools to continue functioning unimpeded and allow them to remain open albeit with heightened precautions.

“We need to do everything we can to protect the students, and the schools,” said Assemblyman O’Donnell on Thursday. “My bill will indemnify school districts as long as they follow all the state and local health directives. We still want school districts to use best practices when it comes to student safety.

“I advocate in-person learning, but I’m also a realist. There’s going to be three models: in-classroom, online and a combination of both. Different approaches work best in different parts of the state. School districts are going to have to be very agile. This bill will help with that.”

The bill would also help schools help plan for reopening in the coming months.

They have to make plans,” added O’Donnell. “Some of them start before Labor Day, although I’d like to see them slide that back. We have to act, so they can have some certainty when making decisions.”

Backlash against AB 1384

While AB 1384 has grown in popularity in both the Assembly and Senate, many teachers and school advocates noted that the schools are putting teachers ahead of students.

“We’d be allowed to sue, but our students, many of whom come from poorer families or may be more susceptible to getting the coronavirus, won’t be,” noted Ashley Ferrer, a teacher in a Southern California school district. “If we have to teach in classrooms, even under half-and-half school and home schedules, there will be outbreaks, even with the best precautions in the world.

“So this is the rub. Districts may have students get back into classrooms, but if they get sick because of it, they’re out of luck. This is crazy.

I know parents wouldn’t be thrilled of another half-a-year of remote classes, but waiting is probably the best option. This bill is for those people who just want kids back in school but don’t want the school to be at fault. I don’t know how any lawmaker can be this callous, especially a teacher at that.”

Despite objections, AB 1384 is expected to be heard in Assembly committees after the Assembly returns to session on July 13th. With schools reopening as early as the middle of August, the bill will likely be given a voting fast track as it moves up in different committees.

Evan Symon
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4 thoughts on “New Assembly Bill Would Limit Schools Of Any Coronavirus-Related Liability

  1. High school teacher asks: What rights to a healthy working environment do we have if a student refuses to mask, allow their temp be be taken or behave in preventative ways? Leaving this up to 977 individual school districts in California serving 6,299,451 students is short sighted and will lead to expensive legal and complicated personnel issues. Data reports 20% of adults are no-maskers. Do the math, 20% of middle and high school children are likely to mirror their defiant adults and now throw in those who “COVID party” and return to class and we have a tragic and potentially deadly classroom environment that my students are expected to learn in and colleagues and I are expected “manage.” Schools need the right to test students for symptoms and teachers need the right to have healthy students who mask, safe distance and practice hygiene respectful of their health and the health of those in the classroom. Students who are unwilling to abide by these common sense health procedures are not permitted in the classroom. This needs to be a locked on top down understanding unless you want individual hot spots flaring up and people pointing the finger of blame at each other as the deaths and injuries pile up.

    1. After sending the above and later in the day reading the CNN story on teachers making out wills, the ones who’ve died and news about COVID parties I was moved to think about the following: What rights do teachers have to a healthy working environment if a student refuses to mask, allow their temp to be taken or behave in preventative ways? Leaving this up to 977 individual school districts in California serving 6,299,451 students is short sighted and will lead to expensive legal and complicated personnel issues and unnecessary death. Data reports 20% of adults are “no-maskers.” Do the math, 20% of middle and high school children are likely to mirror their defiant adults and now throw in those who “COVID party” and return to class and we have a tragic and deadly classroom environment in which students are expected to learn and teachers are expected to manage. Schools need the right to test students for symptoms and teachers need the right to have healthy students who mask, safe distance and practice hygiene respectful of their health and the health of those in the classroom. Teachers and administrators need the authority to keep students and adults who are unwilling to abide by these common sense health procedures out of the classroom and off the campus. This authority needs approval from the highest levels… unless you want individual hot spots flaring up and people pointing the finger of blame at each other as the deaths and injuries pile up.

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