WASHINGTON – Last week, Congressman Rob Wittman (VA-01) sent a letter to Congressional Leadership urging the inclusion of temporary and targeted liability protections for academic institutions, administration, and teachers related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the upcoming coronavirus relief package.
“As a public health official for over 25 years, I am well versed to evaluate public health risks and balance those risks with the educational well-being of our students,” Congressman Wittman wrote. “We must be able to balance the public health risks and the danger of continuing to shutter our schools. In order to accomplish this, school board members, superintendents, administrators and teachers need to have the confidence that they will not face legal repercussions if they adhere to the proper precautions. Moreover, we must ensure that potential liability protections do not safeguard those who are acting with willful misconduct or negligence.”
“I am beyond appreciative of the commitment and sacrifice our nation's educators make on a daily basis,” Congressman Wittman said. “Their dedication does not go unrecognized—the positive influence and selflessness that our educators possess is invaluable. Now, more than ever, we must support our educators as they teach our children. We must support our schools as they aim to reopen as soon as possible, but only when they are able to do so safely. The Commonwealth and the Federal government should commit to supporting our localities with what they need to achieve that. ”
Congressman Wittman’s request comes as the House and Senate consider the next phase of Coronavirus relief to hardworking Americans, businesses, and communities. Localities across the Commonwealth and the nation are facing increasing difficulties in finding solutions to reopen schools for in-person learning in any capacity this Fall.
Additionally, Congressman Wittman recently cosponsored H.R. 7710, the Open Schools Responsibly Act, sponsored by Rep. Greg Murphy (NC-03). This legislation would provide academic institutions protections from lawsuits stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Congressman Wittman has repeatedly echoed his desire to assist localities at the federal level as they move toward their executing their reopening plans.
Congressman Wittman’s letter is reproduced in its entirety below:
Dear Leaders McConnell and Schumer and Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy:
I am writing today to urge you to include temporary and targeted liability protections for academic institutions related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the upcoming coronavirus relief package. While these protections are likely necessary for many sectors of the American economy, my request focuses on the need to safeguard schools, administrators, and teachers from excessive and unnecessary lawsuits arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a public health official for over 25 years, I am well versed to evaluate public health risks and balance those risks with the educational well-being of our students. We must be able to balance the public health risks and the danger of continuing to shutter our schools. In order to accomplish this, school board members, superintendents, administrators and teachers need to have the confidence that they will not face legal repercussions if they adhere to the proper precautions. Moreover, we must ensure that potential protections do not protect those who are acting with willful misconduct or negligence.
Inclusion of targeted liability protections for schools would provide an additional protective measure and serve as an important step toward ensuring that our country’s schools and all employees are reassured to return to the mission of educating children without fear of legal ramifications.
Local school districts and their faculty and staff would be among the largest beneficiaries of laser-focused COVID-19 liability protections. It is critical that we put in place the necessary protections for those entities and people serving on the educational front lines, so long as schools follow their individual State’s and the Center for Disease Control’s health guidelines. However, the protections should not apply if transmission was caused by an act or omission on the part of the school constituting willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of covered individuals. Liability protections for schools are paramount as we enter back-to-school season. Inclusion protects academic institutions from lawsuits and unbearable economic penalties arising from students, employees, and visitors who may risk contracting and transmitting COVID-19. Furthermore, I urge the sunset of these protections after five years, until the beginning of 2025.
In the past, Congress has come together to pass timely and targeted liability protections with strong bipartisan support because members understood the economic threat of lawsuits at moments of intense economic vulnerability. While Congress has acted to provide some limited COVID-19 related liability protections for healthcare providers and some manufacturers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the CARES Act, more needs to be done to protect schools. I urge the inclusion of liability protections for academic institutions and their employees, as we move to safely return our students to in-classroom instruction. Thank you for your consideration.