June 19, 2020
In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Catholic schools face quite the task as they look to develop reopening plans for the fall that prioritize not only continuous education but, most importantly, the health and safety of school community members. When designing their plans, schools should consider both practical and legal implications of the strategies, including what health guidance to follow and how to minimize potential liability.
Schools must act with reasonable care to protect the health and safety of their students and staff. To help meet this standard, schools should work with local health officials to develop and implement a written reopening plan that follows federal, state, and local guidance. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have each released guidance that provide helpful strategies for maintaining a safe classroom and minimizing the spread of COVID-19.
Given that new information about COVID-19 is released frequently, school leaders should stay up-to-date on any developments and be willing to adjust reopening plans accordingly. Steady communication with local health authorities, as well as staff, students, and guardians of students will help the community to better prepare for any COVID-19 situation.
Because Congress is considering possible liability protections that will shield schools from COVID-related lawsuits, schools should keep track of legislative developments regarding COVID. Schools also may consider requiring staff and students (through their guardians) to acknowledge and waive potential risks arising from COVID-19 exposure. Regardless, schools must remain vigilant, and the most conducive way to protect students and staff is to adhere to safety guidelines.
Ultimately, reopening will require schools to demonstrate that they are taking affirmative steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect members of their school community. For more detailed guidance on reopening plans, please review Considerations and Resources for Reopening Catholic K-12 Schools.
Gabrielle Mercurio is a second-year law student at Notre Dame Law School, where she was awarded the Church, State, and Society Fellowship to work with the Napa Legal Institute this summer. She graduated in 2016 from the University of Notre Dame with a BA in Psychology. Prior to law school, she worked for three years for Notre Dame's Division of Auxiliary Operations, where she collaborated with the Division's Human Resources Consultant to promote and manage employee relations. Currently at Notre Dame Law, she serves as the President of the Food and Beverage Law Club as well as the Treasurer for the Asian Law Students Association.