School districts must follow state guidelines, insurance company says
– On Wednesday, Self-Insured Schools of California (SISC) sent a letter to school districts threatening to void their insurance policies if districts defy state mask mandates.
Wearing masks at school has been mandatory since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic by the California Department of Public Health. The mask mandate has been enforced by local school districts, administrators and teachers. More than 50 Paso Robles High School students protested the mask mandate on Tuesday, and the Paso Robles School Board will reconsider its role in enforcing the mandate at its next meeting.
The insurance company has jumped into the debate as school boards consider passing resolutions that would make mask rules voluntary.
On Thursday, San Luis Obispo County Superintendent James Brescia shared the SISC letter and added, “Please emphasize that this is a state mandate, not an option for districts. schools.”
SISC COVID-19 Update
Recently, SISC Property & Liability received inquiries regarding the proposed passage of resolutions by our District School Boards to loosen enforcement of mask mandates for students and staff at school.
According to the most recent guidance provided by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), dated January 12, 2022, masks remain optional outdoors for all in K-12 schools, and K-12 students are required to hide indoors as well as adults when sharing indoor spaces with students. On February 14, 2022, Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, announced that these guidelines would be reassessed on February 28, 2022.
It is important that SISC member districts continue to adhere to the guidelines issued by the CDPH. Any deviation from these guidelines will jeopardize the liability coverage offered by SISC. Coverage for claims or lawsuits for bodily injury and personal injury alleging negligence on the part of a member district or a person employed by a member district is in most cases not subject to review. However, in cases where a member district has deliberately passed a resolution that violates an ordinance and/or public health law, this would require the SISC to conduct a thorough coverage review for any subsequent claims or lawsuits submitted. We offer the following examples:
- A student or parents on behalf of a student alleged that their son or daughter contracted the novel coronavirus due to the district’s intentional failure to enforce a public health order. The SISC would be forced to review coverage in light of the district’s intentional decision to ignore the public health order. In this case, the district intended to ignore the public health order and therefore the student could allege that he or she contracted the virus as a result of the district’s intentional conduct.
- A student or parents on behalf of a student allege that their son or daughter was unable to attend school due to increased risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus. The student may allege that the intentional conduct of the district to deviate from or fail to follow the guidelines and/or public health order issued by the CDPH led directly to the student’s decision to remain off-campus and therefore to be deprived of his fair and appropriate public education (FAPE). Even if the student did not suffer bodily harm, the student in this case will have suffered personal harm (violation of his civil right to education). SISC would again be forced to review coverage in light of the District’s intentional decision to ignore CDPH guidelines.
The best coverage decisions are made with the benefit of written factual allegations contained in a claim or lawsuit. However, documented deliberate violations of state-ordered warrants in a board resolution greatly increase the likelihood that SISC or SISC’s excess insurers will not be able to afford or cover defense costs.
Robert J. Kretzmer
Director, Property and Liability
CA Self-Insured Schools
Click here to see a copy of the letter