As local educational agencies (LEAs) throughout the state continue to plan for the complicated transition back to school in the fall, the question of liability from COVID-19 related harm looms large. AB 1384, recently introduced by Assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell (D- Long Beach), aims to address this liability issue and allow LEAs to focus on providing qualityeducational services during the pandemic. The bill defines LEAs as school districts, county offices of education, schools operated by school districts or county offices of education, charter schools, as well as the California Schools for the Deaf and the California School for the Blind. The bill seeks to ensure that LEAs can stay financially afloat while doing their best to provide safe learning and working conditions.
To receive protection from liability, AB 1384 requires LEAs to implement program and facility policies and procedures consistent with federal, state, and local COVID-19 legal and regulatory requirements. LEAs would also be required to consider guidelines from federal, state, and local government entities as well as public health agencies in their program and facility policies and procedures. If the legal and regulatory requirements and guidelines are included in an LEA's policies and procedures, an LEA would be exempt from liability related to COVID-19. This protection would apply to lawsuits alleging monetary liability or damages from COVID-19 related injuries or conditions, or an act or omission by an LEA in response to COVID-19. The protection for LEAs would extend to actions taken by its officers and employees.
While AB 1384 limits the ability of students and parents to bring COVID-19 related challenges against an LEA, teachers and other school employees are not limited and may bring COVID-19 related claims under workers' compensation. Additionally, monetary claims for damages that result due to gross negligence or reckless, wanton, or willful misconduct by an LEA are not limited by the bill and non-monetary student claims are not precluded by the bill.
With schools looking to finalize plans and prepare for the new school year, this bill may receive priority in the Legislature. It is expected to be heard in Assembly committees upon the return of the Assembly to session the week of July 13th, but as of July 16th there have been no updates.