How superintendents can respond to early state reopening orders

AASA COVID-19 task force discusses balancing between complying with state mandates and keeping students and employees safe
By: | May 15, 2020
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District leaders should not feel obligated to follow state legislation that requires their schools to reopen earlier than established safety guidelines recommend, but they still need to fully comprehend the legal implications involved in failing to comply, a task force of superintendents recommends.

This recommendation on reopening schools came during a weekly panel established by the AASA, The School Superintendents Association to provide solutions to the coronavirus crisis.

“States such as North Carolina, which has or could pass legislation requiring schools to reopen in mid-August, put superintendents and district boards in an awkward position if they feel there hasn’t been an eight-week reduction in COVID-19 incidents to reopen safely, as the CDC and White House suggests,” says Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the AASA, a professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders in the U.S. 

Reopening orders and the liabilities associated with reopening schools (and not)

“When states call the shots, and superintendents and school boards want to stand up against mandates about their schools reopening, there is liability involved,” he adds.

In these cases, district leaders should obtain legal counsel to see how much room their school system has and what they can do. Additionally, the task force recommends that K-12 decision-makers follow the progression of the HEROES Act, which contains language about liabilities concerning their employees.

Related: 7 questions schools will have to answer to reopen in fall 2020

Related: How schools may change forever when they reopen in fall 2020

Related: Online? In-person? How fall 2020 is taking shape for schools

“If schools are forced to reopen, leaders need to understand that teachers or staff who get sick as a result could sue the school district if the bill passes, though the senates claims the bill is dead on arrival,” says Domenech.

Last week, the task force concluded that the process of reopening schools should not occur until the summer or fall and that districts do not possess the necessary funds to implement policies that would keep students safe in school.

“Schools are the biggest provider of child care in the country, and, of course, everybody wants the economy to recover, but not at the expense of the lives of kids, staff and members of our schools,” says Domenech. 

“As a superintendent, your primary duty is the protection, health and welfare of everyone in your school buildings.”

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