Louisiana’s K-12 schools and colleges will be shielded from most civil lawsuits if a student or teacher contracts the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus under a bill that Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law on July 8.
Lawmakers agreed in the special session that ended June 30 to give the sweeping protections to schools as they prepare to reopen in August.
House Bill 59 by Republican Rep. Buddy Mincey, a former Livingston Parish School Board member, will keep people exposed to COVID-19 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 cover public and private K-12 schools; charter schools; and public and private colleges and universities. The new law is retroactive to March 11, around the time of Louisiana’s first positive coronavirus test.
Although Mincey sought to apply the legislation to any declared state emergency for an infectious disease, senators limited it to COVID-19.
Supporters argued the liability limitations were needed to encourage schools to hold in-person classes despite the virus outbreak. Opponents worried the provisions 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 as well.
The Legislature earlier this year passed a separate law, also signed by the Democratic governor, that gives similar protections to businesses, government agencies, trade show organizers and event planners for civil damages for injuries or death from COVID-19.
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