Florida Senate looks to shield colleges from COVID-19 lawsuits

A cyclist, wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, rides by an entrance to the University of Miami, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Senate committee will take up a bill Tuesday that would shield colleges and universities from lawsuits over decisions to shut campuses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill would also make pandemic-related changes in accountability requirements for schools in the kindergarten through the 12th-grade system. The bill, SPB 7070, which will be considered by the Senate Education Committee, focuses in part on lawsuits that have been filed in Florida and other parts of the country against colleges and universities.

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Such lawsuits have sought tuition reimbursements because students were forced to take online classes when campuses closed last year to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Under the bill, the Legislature would find that “there is an overpowering public necessity for, and no reasonable alternative to, providing educational institutions with liability protections against lawsuits seeking tuition or fee reimbursements or related damages resulting from the institutions changing the delivery of educational services, limiting access to facilities, or closing campuses during the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

The bill also would make K-12 accountability changes because of the pandemic.

For example, it would prevent using performance on standardized assessments this year to determine whether to retain third-grade students. Also, it would allow parents to request that their students be retained in third grade.