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Opinion: Schools, small businesses need a legislative fix for COVID liability


Across our state, schools and small businesses are grappling with the difficult choice of whether to open up their doors or to keep them closed due to COVID-19. For small businesses, deciding to keep their doors closed could mean losing their livelihood and depriving the area of much-needed services. For schools, the decision to keep doors closed could mean students lose out on the needed social interaction and a safe and secure environment for learning.

We are all concerned with the spread of COVID-19 and how that may affect susceptible populations. The infection rates vary greatly by region, and I know school administrators and business owners are taking that into account when they are making these decisions. Unfortunately, school principals, superintendents, and small business owners around the state must also worry about COVID-related lawsuits that may arise from a decision to reopen. Parents are deciding between schooling at home or signing waivers for in-seat learning that may be quite intimidating.

State Rep. Holly Rehder

Imagine a school decided to open back up because research shows that kids need social interaction in a classroom environment, and the risk of COVID-19 was small in the area. Now imagine a few students contract COVID-19. We’ve all seen how rampant senseless lawsuits have become — and it is incredibly expensive to defend yourself even knowing you will eventually prevail. Any single lawsuit can spell financial disaster for struggling districts, and even just a small number of COVID-related suits could destroy a school financially.

The danger is that schools that could likely reopen safely would still choose not to do so because of fear of COVID-19-related lawsuits. Instead of making a decision based on facts, research, and the welfare of children, the decisions are made based on fear of trial lawyers. This should not be the most important issue in deciding to reopen. I believe schools and businesses should be able to reopen without fear of lawsuits. I also believe that parents should be able to make choices regarding their child’s education, including opting into virtual or distance learning if that is what they think is best for their child and family. The point being, people can make well-reasoned decisions based on what is best for themselves.

The decision to reopen society should not be based on fear of lawsuits. As long as COVID-19 exists, there is a danger of it spreading at any function. We as a state must recognize this fact and absolve businesses and schools of any fear of reprisal for determining that it is in the best interests of the community to reopen. We, as individuals, need to realize we are personally responsible for ourselves and our children: Where we choose to travel, shop, and send our children are risks we are choosing and are personally responsible for. We cannot blame other entities for what are ultimately our choices.

I sympathize with these businesses and schools that wish to reopen and get society moving again. That is why I believe Jefferson City needs to consider legislation that would hold schools and small businesses immune from lawsuits accusing them of spreading COVID-19. When a school or business is deciding when to reopen, they should not have to factor in fear of litigation for trying to serve the community. They should be able to make that decision based on the welfare of the community, not based on lawsuits.