Teachers’ union warns new COVID-19 liability protection could backfire on schools

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, says the new law enacted to provide legal protections to businesses and schools may have the opposite effect.

TEA President Beth Brown said in a release that the new law’s standards of gross negligence or willful misconduct could make schools liable if they buck federal guidelines and designate educators to be “essential workers.”  

 “TEA believes the few school districts designating educators as essential to avoid isolation protocols for staff directly exposed to a positive COVID case could meet the definition the ‘gross negligence’ and ‘willful misconduct’ outlined in the new liability law,” Brown said in a release. “CDC guidance on isolation after exposure limits spread and protects communities. Disregarding this guidance may have liability repercussions as well as unnecessarily jeopardize the health of students and educators and increase the likelihood of school closures and disrupted instruction.”

The full release follows.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Education Association is drawing attention to a law enacted last week that reportedly increased liability protections for school systems, but in fact expanded their risk of civil suits for COVID related decisions.  

The General Assembly passed and Gov. Lee signed the “Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act” that creates a new standard of compliance school districts must meet to be shielded from claims for loss, damage, injury or death arising from COVID-19. The new law provides COVID “gross negligence” or “willful misconduct” liability claims against school systems that were not available prior to passage. TEA believes there are clear policies, procedures and scheduling decisions LEAs can adopt and enforce to meet this new legal standard.

“TEA has advocated from the beginning of the pandemic that decision-makers must prioritize the health and wellbeing of students and educators,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “The new law adds liability considerations to making prudent decisions on when and how school buildings reopen.” 

In reviewing the proposed liability legislation prior to the recent special session, TEA recognized school districts already held an exceptionally high level of immunity from civil lawsuits under Tennessee law. Now because of the new law, standards of “gross negligence” or “willful misconduct” could be applied to system decisions that go against federal and state guidelines and recommendations, including using “essential worker” designations for educators.   

“TEA believes the few school districts designating educators as essential to avoid isolation protocols for staff directly exposed to a positive COVID case could meet the definition the ‘gross negligence’ and ‘willful misconduct’ outlined in the new liability law,” said Brown. “CDC guidance on isolation after exposure limits spread and protects communities. Disregarding this guidance may have liability repercussions as well as unnecessarily jeopardize the health of students and educators and increase the likelihood of school closures and disrupted instruction.”

The negligence and misconduct thresholds in the “Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act” may apply to many decisions and policies adopted by school systems. Following all federal and state COVID recommendations is a means to avoid exceeding these thresholds. TEA offers this analysis of the new liability law following guidance school systems received that they did not have to follow all CDC guidelines nor would the state recommend systems do so.  

“School districts need to carefully review their reopening and operating plans to ensure they are following CDC guidelines and using reliable COVID-19 data for clear and epidemiologically-sound decisions for in-person instruction,” said Brown.

15 Responses to Teachers’ union warns new COVID-19 liability protection could backfire on schools

  • Avatar
    Cannoneer2 says:

    The TEA is an “Association”, not a union. Similar to the NFIB being a “Federation” of businesses, not a union.

    • Avatar
      Bill says:

      That is what I thought too. When did the Tennessee Education Association become a union? I know, years ago, Lamar Alexander started calling it a union.

  • Avatar
    steve cates says:

    Thanks to TEA for speaking out and trying to make sense out of this terrible “law” passed by the TN General Assembly and signed by our governor. Though republicans have done all they can to shut our union down, it’s good to know we still are a viable force in TN. As a retiree now, my life is much more livable and pleasant because of the insurance and other retirement benefits we teachers in our union worked hard to get, especially beginning in the 1970s.

    • Avatar
      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Leftist steve cates a former teacher. WOW! Now that’s a shock!

      • Avatar
        Perry Aubric says:

        Yes, Steve has made a contribution to society. He spent his life as a teacher. There was a time when teaching was respected and not sneered at. I guess that was before willful ignorance and letting FOX news and Rush Limbaugh do all the thinking for you became the vogue.

        Steve, as I said, has been a valuable and even essential member of his community. He hasn’t, for instance, sat on his ass at a foreign-owned asset management company moving money around, finding ways to avoid paying taxes, and otherwise actually producing nothing, while haunting an obscure blog site to tout meaningless political ratings scores.

        It should be no “shock” to any one that educated, informed, hard working, asset-to-society individuals should be more progressive in their ideas.

        Thank you, Steve, for your service to Tennessee. I, for one, value our teachers.

        • Avatar
          Charles says:

          You tell him, Perry!

          Thanks, Steve, for your service to Tennessee students.

        • Avatar
          Stuart I. Anderson says:

          OF COURSE YOU DO PERRY. Never mind our students’ falling or stagnant test scores that put us in the bottom half of industrialized countries, leftist teachers like steve are so valuable in indoctrinating the next generation to hate American culture, history and our society and thus become suckers for the next leftist demagogue that comes along . Of course, if parents took the time to arm their children with the attitudes, knowledge, and skepticism toward the nonsense that they are going to hear in school the steve cates of the world wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as they try to be. Unfortunately, whether through ignorance or sloth too many parents fail to do that and the results are what you see on your television screen every night or experience simply by speaking to a cross section of Gen Xers or Millenials. I can understand that from your perspective Perry, leftist teachers have been “. . .a valuable and even essential member of this community” indeed.

          • Avatar
            Perry Aubric says:

            You are a disgrace, Stuart. The most nonsense on this site consistently comes from you and the other regressive reactionaries who post here. You don’t know a damn thing about Steve Cates, his classroom, his students, or his abilities as a teacher.

            Teaching actual facts instead of revisionist reactionary propaganda, critical thinking instead of sheep-like obedience to talk radio hosts or politicized fundamentalist preachers, or responsibilities as a citizen rather than a selfish “I got mine to hell with you” social Darwinism (the attitude you demonstrate without fail) apparently are a threat to your ilk.

            For someone who has never produced a damn thing tangible to benefit our society, you sure have a hell of a lot of nerve attacking without any foundation or knowledge or justification someone who has, and who has for decades.

  • Avatar
    Toni T. Locke says:

    Tennessee politicians call the Tennessee Education Association a union in hopes of taking power away from it. However the term “union” is just a synonym for an “association” by definition.
    union: a club, society, or association formed by people with a common interest or purpose
    Anyone in this state who has ever worked for a public school system has benefited from laws advanced by the TEA–even non-members. TEA promotes laws that protect the children they teach, too!
    Call me a union member if you want. We are united for the cause of public education in the state where we teach, where we live, and where our children attend school. T
    This comment is from a member of TEA and NEA-Retired.

  • Avatar
    Beatrice Shaw says:

    Teachers deserve to be protected and should get FULL immunity from any liability while working with the public. Gross negligence is way too wide a definition to be applied to activities in a school.

    • Avatar
      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong Beatrice, but as I recall you yourself come from the “steve cates School of Leftist Pedagogy” having been a teacher yourself.

      • Avatar
        Beatrice Shaw says:

        yes I have and proud of it. The $40.00 taken from my check every two weeks back home protected me from many angry parents and administrators

  • Pingback: Tuesday, September 1

  • Avatar
    Taxpayer #314 says:

    Stewart rants that the failures of our teachers and our school systems are the fault of those “evil leftist teachers and the results of such are seen on your TV every night.” What I see on MY TV every night Stewart, is the result of Ms. DEVO and her wacky non-leadership preaching the destruction of our public schools by neglect of funding. Her failures alone are epic but then our public schools also have to deal with trump policies that wander vaguely and end up being the opposite of what the schools actually need. The problem goes much higher than the individual teachers. Look towards the top to find the problem. Teachers are the answer, not the problem, they should be respected by the public, just like our medical folks and our heroic troops.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *