Communities benefit from having access to school facilities and resources. The schools often benefit, too. Various groups can host sporting events, promote recreation, and further education, while schools and school boards often generate revenue from these activities.
Liability and risk management, however, is a major concern for administration staff. Thoughts of property damage and personal injury can be enough to shut down any community use of school facilities, regardless of what fees usage would add to operating funds.
Luckily, with the right policies and processes in place, schools can open their doors while minimizing and managing risk.
Legislative Protection Isn’t Enough
“Concern over liability is a barrier to allowing community use of school property for the purpose of engaging in active sport and recreational activities.”
The lead investigator John O. Spengler, JD, Ph.D., Department of Tourism, Recreation, and Sport Management, University of Florida, Gainesville, looked into recreational user statutes to limit liability for schools, finding that liability protections could be improved to increase recreational use.
“Public schools have facilities that can help meet the physical activity needs of their surrounding communities,” said Spengler. “Statutes should therefore also reflect a legislative intent to encourage public schools to make their property available to the public for recreational use, recognizing the importance of physical activity to health.”
However, only 12 states provide limited liability protections specific to community activities at schools.
How to Handle Risk with Compliance and Management
How can your school handle the risk and liability of the community using your facilities, whether or not you’re in a state with some liability protection? One answer may be diligent management and oversight of your facilities and how they should be used.
With facility management software, administrators can be aware of what facilities and resources, along with their status and upkeep, are in place at their school. This software enables asset tracking such as maintenance, inspections, health and safety measures, or other factors that could impact regulatory compliance and user liability. By having all of this information tracked and centralized you can ensure your facilities are in an acceptable condition for outside use.
Facility scheduling software can also help reduce liability. For example, perhaps you allow facilities like your gymnasium, library, cafeteria, or classrooms, etc. to be reserved and used by community groups during off-school hours. However, you only want to allow bookings on days when a caretaker or other supervisor is available and/or on-site. Using an online application process, you can ensure that groups are booking when and where they should, blocking out access to situations that could create liability.
You may wish to require proof of 3rd party liability insurance from community users. With an online booking platform, it’s easy to accept and screen if applicants have the appropriate insurance, and then approve or deny their request as policy dictates.
While you will never completely eliminate risk, facility and resource management helps you keep tabs on your school’s largest and most costly assets so that you can experience the benefits of opening your doors to community users with less concern.