EXCLUSIVE: With families and educators around the country gearing up to return to in-person learning this semester, policy makers are still grappling with the consequences of post-coronavirus reopenings might look like.
North Carolina Rep. Greg Murphy is introducing a COVID-19 school reopening bill Monday that will ensure liability protections for academic institutions that take „good-faith“ precautions to protect students, staff and visitors.
Those measures would be left up to each state, and not the federal government.
„As a physician of over 30 years and Ranking Member of the Higher Education and Workforce Innovation Subcommittee, there is nothing more important to me than the health and well-being of our students,“ Murphy, a doctor, told Fox News Friday. „Leading experts agree that some students may lose as much as one year’s worth of educational progress in the absence of in-person learning.“
He said long-term remote learning has been linked to depression, anxiety and loneliness and can expose children to cyberbullying and „internet addiction.“
The Open Schools Responsibly Act aims to protect schools and colleges from lawsuits and fines over students, employees and visitors who risk contracting or spreading the coronavirus once academic institutions reopen for the fall semester.
„While parents and teachers have done an admirable job adapting to virtual learning in the past year and a half, there is absolutely no substitute for in-person learning,“ Murphy said. „This is especially true for children in rural areas who have had greater difficulty keeping up with school without reliable internet services.“
The bill, which has support from the conservative policy group Heritage Action, includes a sunset provision for 2025.
Murphy, a doctor, had introduced similar legislation last year and penned a Fox News op-ed in support of his plan.
The new version allows states to set their own coronavirus guidelines and no longer recognizes guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowing for more local control by districts with a range of needs and concerns.
„A public school in Los Angeles will have very different rules than a private school in North Carolina,“ Murphy said. „No schools should be sued for making a good-faith effort to follow their state’s guidelines.“
It also keeps local residents off the hook by protecting public schools from liabilities.
„If a school becomes devastated by a massive lawsuit, the financial burden will be on the taxpayer to foot the bill for legal expenses,“ Murphy said.