Legal expert Peggy Burns and Mark Hinson, both of Education Compliance Group, offered tips for student transporters on what can be done to avoid liability at a TSD Conference session on Sunday titled “Top 10 Tips for Limiting Liability.”
TSD Tenured Faculty member Burns started off by saying that while it is important to try to avoid liability, it is also important not to lose sight of what a student transporter’s true mission is.
“While we’re all concerned that we should avoid liability, what we’re primarily all concerned about is getting children to school safely, on time and ready to learn. Avoiding liability is I hope for all of you, a very secondary concept,” she said.
Mark Hinson, a chief human resource officer at Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Colorado and a TSD national advisor, said that lawsuits can cause problems in a work environment because it may pit employees against one another.
“Lawsuits are very divisive in the workplace,” he added.
One of the tips they shared that can help limit liability was enacting solid policies in many different areas, one in particular being areas that are uncertain or confusing. Burns said social media is a good example of this.
“It’s also important to have policies in some of the areas where the law is unsettled. I can think of no area right now more unsettled than, even after what seems like a number of years, than the area of social media, “ she said. “Where the law has not addressed an issue, or where the law is murky about an issue, it is very important for your organization to say ‘where do we stand on that?’”
Another important thing presenters pointed out can help limit liability is the ability to self-assess and monitor your department as a whole.
“I’ve heard too many people say — not arrogantly but with some measure of confidence — my people would never do that,” said Burns.
She added that one thing that is very important is to monitor actual compliance with an IEP, adding that failure to comply with the IEP can be failure to provide FAPE (Free and Accessible Public Education), and encouraged attendees to check every so often for compliance.
Hinson said that a from a human resources point of view, another issue transporters should assess and monitor is communication between staff.
“The issue of communication is you’ve got to communicate frequently, you’ve got to repeat the communication. You’ve got to make sure that the communication and the message has clarity to it,” he said.
Burns and Hinson also emphasized the importance of documenting incidents as they happen and how doing this can help transporters down the line if issues arise.
“Those details of an incident are greatly important whether or not you were just negligent or grossly negligent…whether you showed that you cared or were indifferent,” said Burns.
“It happens over, and over and over again,” said Hinson, referring to cases where there are incidents with employees and nothing is documented. “There’s no documentation in the file, and if there is a performance review, it is not in the performance review…You’re putting yourself in a deficient position and you’ll find yourself very frustrated.”
Hinson went on to say that documenting issues does not always have to be complicated or time-consuming.
“A lot of times documentation is as simple, I mean just as simple as putting a note to a file or a note to a record,” he said.
“From a legal standpoint, in terms of resolving the he-said she-said, in terms of building your own case, the contemporaneous writing, in other words, putting something down on a piece of paper as it happened, there is a presumption that it really happened,” said Burns.
The TSD Conference concluded Wednesday. Next year’s 25th annual conference will be held March 11-16 in Louisville, Kentucky.