New Mexico Officials Say Teachers Are Safe from Legal Liability Amid Virus

September 21, 2020

New Mexico officials have clarified that teachers won’t be on the hook for lawsuits that might stem from COVID-19 outbreaks as in-person classes began for some students.

“In no way will teachers or school employees be held personally liable for litigation arising out of COVID-19,” said Richard Valerio, executive director of New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority.

School districts can be on the hook for negligence that leads to students getting sick, however. The insurance authority sent a letter to districts urging them to follow safe COVID-19 practices to avoid getting sued.

Valerio says it’s “wait and see” as to how much legal risk schools will face.

No lawsuits have been filed in New Mexico, which has had some in-person learning for certain at-risk students.

Teachers are immune from personal liability for virtually all lawsuits, such as a personal injury claim from a student who contracts a virus at school. Lawsuits are defended and paid out through insurance administered by the agency.

The letter to the districts didn’t mention teacher liability, leading some educators to infer that they might be at risk.

“It’s important to clarify this fact after some unfortunate misinterpretation of NMPSIA’s (email) to superintendents,” Lt. Gov. Howie Morales said. “We will protect all of our educators and staff who are on the front lines of this pandemic today, and we are extremely grateful for their contributions to our students and our communities.”

Plans for in-person schooling were pushed back after a spike in cases in July.

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