Facility Use in Montana Public Schools
By Matt Komac, Assistant Director – PC Pool Operations
During normal circumstances, Montana School districts are tasked with balancing requests from the community for use of your facilities with the challenges that attend minimizing liability exposure and preventing property damage. Adding COVID-19 to the mix introduces yet another set of issues that you must address before a decision can be made by your board of trustees.
As many of you have begun to reopen your facilities to staff and students – and, in some situations, to your community members – MTSBA has provided guidance to schools. MTSBA Model Emergency Policy 1903 suspends community use of your facilities; and while many districts have implemented this policy, some have chosen to either amend it or not implement it. In accordance with Montana law, boards of trustees are within their authority to decline the request to have any people or groups of students or community members, no matter the size, utilizing district facilities for activities, open gym, or fitness. While difficult, this decision helps keep the facility clean by limiting unnecessary visits to the school while protecting the safety, health, and well-being of students, staff, and community members.
If your board is going to consider opening the facilities to the community or students for use unrelated to instructional services, the user should comply with any applicable county health board guidance; it should likewise adhere to the health and safety protocols in MTSBA Model Emergency Policies 1905/1905P. Any community, group, or individual use of the school through a facility-use agreement or personal-use agreement should be accompanied by written consent and approval from the county confirming that the event or use is suitable under local directives. Further, an agreement should include specific provisions concerning who is responsible for cleaning and disinfecting the premises and who is responsible for implementing other health and safety precautions passed by the board in MTSBA Policy 1905 or issued by the county. In those instances wherein an individual or sponsoring organization uses the facility, they are de facto the responsible parties. In the event use is provided, the district should post the School Event and Facility Notice outlined in MTSBA Model Emergency Policy 1903F at the entrance to the event or facility. This notice will help guide those authorized to be in the school.
Regardless of your district’s decision, the most important priority is to help your staff and students return to a safe learning environment this fall; and if restricting community use of our facilities for a period of time is necessary to achieve this goal, doing so is a small price to pay. Once a decision has been made, it is extremely important that the message be relayed to staff, students, and, in some situations, the community to ensure everybody is aware of any changes and that the policy is properly enforced.
We recommend each district designate the contact person who will handle the facility use requests. This person needs to thoroughly understand your policies so s/he can make appropriate and consistent decisions when denying or granting permission for the use of your facilities. This person should also be responsible for ensuring the user has adequate liability insurance with the district named as an additional insured for the specific event that will be held at your facilities. If the user does not have liability coverage in place, then you will want to reach out to your Property and Liability insurer, who should be able to assist the user with placing special events coverage.
We are here to help. If you have any policy or legal questions, please contact Kris Goss; and if you have any insurance-specific questions, please send them my way. Thank you and be well. Return to newsletter