Will Schools Be Held Liable When People Get Sick?

It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room. When schools reopen, some staff and teachers are sure to get sick. Will schools be held legally liable? And if so, ultimately for how much?

Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) has addressed the subject head-on.

“If we’re not careful, schools are going to become someone’s cash cow. And ultimately, it’s gonna fall on the taxpayer,” he said (Sacramento Bee). “Unless we indemnify them, I don’t know how they move forward.”

COVID cases aren’t the only concern. Civil rights lawsuits over mask policies could also cause headaches for districts. Anti-mask activism is the latest iteration of a fringe, anti-science movement that has already had an impact on public health, with harassment and intimidation campaigns forcing the resignations of several local health officials. Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) discussed the phenomenon with Contra Costa County's health officer in an episode of his “Putting the Public Into Health” podcast this week.

Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita) said she hopes to see clearer guidelines from the state in the future. Still, Assemblyman O’Donnell says indemnification for schools must be the top priority moving forward.