Louisiana K-12 schools and colleges would receive sweeping protections against civil lawsuits from students and teachers who contract an infectious disease, including COVID-19, under a bill that won overwhelming support Tuesday from the state House.
The measure by Republican Rep. Buddy Mincey, a former Livingston Parish School Board member, would prevent people exposed to an infectious disease at a school or school facility from being able to sue for damages unless they can prove the high legal standard of “grossly negligent or wanton or reckless misconduct.”
The protections would be given to public and private K-12 schools; charter schools; and public and private colleges and universities.
Mincey said the limitation from liability was critical to allow schools to offer in-person classes in the upcoming school year without fear of lawsuits because of COVID-19. He says that classes on a campus, rather than through distance learning, are better for students.
The bill is retroactive to March 11, around the time of Louisiana’s first positive coronavirus test. The bill applies not only to COVID-19 but any declared state emergency for an infectious disease.
The House voted 82-17 for the proposal, sending it to the Senate for debate despite concerns it could put teachers and students at greater risk of exposure because campuses will be shielded from most lawsuits.
The Louisiana School Boards Association requested the bill, Mincey said, and then higher education officials and a Catholic diocese asked to have their schools added into the measure as well.
Several lawmakers say they heard from teachers who objected to the legislation.
Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, says the people pushing the proposal “are all of the folks who get to sit isolated” in offices away from group gatherings that offer the greatest risk of coronavirus spread.
“It’s easy for them to limit from liability when they aren’t putting themselves at risk,” James says.
Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, says schools shouldn’t have to worry about a “lot of frivolous actions” if they return to in-person learning this fall. He says a parent could keep a child at home if they are worried about the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
The Louisiana Legislature earlier this year passed a new law giving similar protections to businesses, government agencies, trade show organizers and event planners, preventing civil damages for injuries or death from COVID-19 unless they can prove “gross negligence or willful misconduct.” That bill has been signed into law. Read the full story.