Trust to offer school districts COVID-19 insurance The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Trust to offer school districts COVID-19 insurance

Trust to offer school districts COVID-19 insurance
City News

By Wayne Schutsky
Tribune Staff Writer

Weeks after announcing it would not provide coverage, the largest school insurance provider in Arizona said it will offer options to cover claims related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But it may mean that districts, including Mesa Public Schools, could require parents to agree to follow safety protocols or even agree not to sue school officials before their children are allowed back into a classroom. That is only an option for now.

The Arizona Schools Risk Retention Trust provides insurance coverage to 247 districts, schools and community colleges throughout the state – including MPS.

On Aug. 4, the Trust’s board of directors approved a plan to allow member districts to opt in to COVID-19 coverage for an additional premium.

The amount of that premium charge will be based on the size of the district, according to a statement from the Trust.

The Aug. 4 decision came just weeks after Trust board member Ken Hicks told radio station KTAR on July 27 that it would not provide liability coverage for claims related to COVID-19.

Hicks said the exclusion was due to the fact that the Trust’s reinsurance partners did not provide coverage for claims related to pathogens like the coronavirus, according to KTAR.

But two days later, on July 29, the Trust made a statement that it was exploring options to provide COVID-19 coverage without support from reinsurers.

The board approved that plan on Aug. 4.

In order to qualify for the coverage, a school district must implement a reopening plan consistent with health and safety guidance issued by the Arizona Department of Education.

Districts that would like coverage must also ask parents to sign a liability waiver or an “acknowledgment of risks” form that informs parents about the risks of in-person education during the pandemic, safety protocols they will be expected to take, and encourages behavior to reduce transmission of the virus.

The Trust sent districts optional waiver and acknowledgment forms weeks ago in anticipation of the start of the school year but said they were not required.

Prior to the Trust’s vote, MPS spokeswoman Heidi Hurst said the matter of a waiver “has not been a topic of discussion.”

Districts cannot require parents to sign the forms, according to the Trust.

The acknowledgment form differs from the liability waiver some districts like Queen Creek Unified School District have sent home to parents in recent weeks.

“The Trust understands that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach for districts,” Trust spokesperson L’Ecuyer said in an email. “Accordingly, districts should discuss which (if any) of the resources below are appropriate for them.”

The acknowledgment form asks parents to commit to 11 different procedures and precautions aimed at stemming the spread of the virus, including taking temperatures every day before sending kids to school and not sending children to school if they exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, according to a sample copy obtained by the Tribune.

The waiver also asks parents to affirm they will not send sick kids to school but also releases the district from liability in the event a child gets sick.

“To the fullest extent permitted by law, I hereby agree to waive, release, and discharge any and all claims, causes of action, damages, and rights of any kind against the school, the District,” according to the copy of the waiver provided by the Trust.

The acknowledgement form produced by the Trust does not dismiss districts from liability in the event a student gets sick.

According to at least one school district lawyer, Scottsdale Unified General Counsel Michelle Marshall, districts that opt for the waiver have the opportunity for a lower deductible. ′

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