James McWeenyPeter ZawadskiJune 1, 2020 

The Ohio Department of Health Director has authorized school districts to reopen their doors to skills training and non-contact sports. The Order provides detailed requirements and restrictions as well as guidance specifically tailored to baseball, softball, golf courses, pools, and tennis facilities. In addition, the Ohio Department of Health also released its mandates for skills training and the reopening of gyms, dance instruction studios and fitness venues.

The orders are highly informative.  But they do not provide answers to the array of questions that school districts will face when reopening facilities for non-contact sports and skills training.

Consider the following:

  • The Order requires regular and extensive sanitization of equipment and hard surfaces, but how will it be accomplished?
  • The Order demands social distancing, but how will that be enforced?
  • Can all activities even be accommodated under the new restrictions?
  • Do supplemental contracts and compensation structures need to change?  If so, how?
  • How are students or employees screened for the virus?
  • How is medical information protected?
  • What strategies are in place to minimize congregating students?
  • Will you close locker rooms entirely?  If so, how will restroom facilities be provided and regularly sanitized?
  • What protocol will be followed to address a confirmed COVID-19 case?
  • With contact tracing, the potential for lawsuits is higher.  But have you been assured that insurance will cover COVID-related scenarios?
  • Should third parties be allowed to use the facilities?
  • How will the requirements be communicated to students, parents and staff?  Is a sign or email enough?
  • Would a special student athlete handbook or athlete code-of-conduct be useful?
  • Did you receive a greenlight from the county Board of Health?  Does it have other restrictions to follow?
  • What do you do when spectators or parents want to watch the activities?
  • How will you address people who are non-compliant?

In short, a plan to simply follow the Director of Health’s orders is not enough from a risk management perspective. These and many other questions should be asked and answered before facilities open. Furthermore, all pertinent individuals should be involved in the discussion, including athletic directors, coaches, custodial staff, administrators and legal counsel.

To receive further information and clarification, Walter | Haverfield is hosting a webinar in partnership with the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio.  The webinar Summer Activities & Sports: Legal Implications for the Next Phase of the Pandemicwill be held on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 from 11:30 A.M. – 12:30 P.M.  Register here.

James McWeeney is a partner at Walter | Haverfield who focuses his practice on education law, labor and employment and litigation. He can be reached at jmcweeney@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2959.

Peter Zawadski is a partner at Walter | Haverfield who focuses his practice on education law as well as labor and employment matters. He can be reached at pzawadski@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2920.