What are Schools’ Liability Exposures for Off-Campus Lunch Hours?

For high schoolers, getting some time to get off campus may be a bright spot for them. Having off-campus lunch be an option can be a good way for students to take a break from their stressful days, especially if they spend their after-school hours on campus with sports and clubs. It’s also helpful for the surrounding economy as restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, and fast food businesses get major financial boosts from students.

But off-campus lunching can also present a number of liabilities and risks that put schools, students, and parents in bad positions. If a student falls ill at a restaurant, who’s to blame? What about plummeting test scores? Or what if a student or group of students are injured in a wreck on the way back from lunch?

It’s important to consider the potential situations that can fall on off-campus lunching. While some may see on-campus-only or closed campuses as hindering a student’s freedom, is it safer and less risky than opening up a campus for off-site lunch?

Parental Permission

Leaving school creates plenty of potential scenarios where a student’s health and safety are at risk. New drivers are posed as a threat because they may be looked at as inexperienced and with the rise in distracted driving in general, and in younger people specifically, the potential for an accident may seem much higher.

One way schools are keeping safety a priority is keeping a campus closed but offering up parental permission for students. Students can be signed out by parents over lunch by form, allowing them to take their lunch offsite. This can limit the number of students who take their lunch off-campus as some students may not be on board with allowing their child to leave campus. By doing this, the liability is placed back onto the parents, and the school is no longer responsible for the student.

Injuries and Accidents

While teens carry the stigma of being bad drivers, there is only so much you can prepare for and protect against, no matter who is behind the wheel. Accidents can happen to anyone, but when it comes to students who are participating in off-campus lunch hours the fault goes back to the school if an accident occurs.

While having parents’ permission to leave–as noted above–is a solution, it can also help to have a system in place that prohibits students who have tardies and absences on their record to leave. This will help teach students the role of accountability and should encourage them to be more responsible with their free time while also keeping a certain number of students off the road.

Student Safety

While encouraging students to follow guidelines when it comes to parents’ permission and accountability forms, there is still the possibility of other safety-related risks that can fall on the shoulders of the school.

If a student is bullied or has an issue with another student or teacher, they may take the free time they have at lunch to go home and gather weapons that they can take back to campus. If something like this happens, the fault can be placed back on the school for allowing the opportunity for a student to leave freely and come back if only to harm others.

This issue cannot be curbed if a student has the right forms and permissions needed. What’s more, having a closed campus policy doesn’t guarantee that a student won’t find a way to bring in weapons to the school.

For now, schools need to find ways in which they can encourage better attendance and behavior from their students while helping their own cause by staying away from potential costly liabilities.

About PGUI

Professional Governmental Underwriters, Inc., is a full-service risk management company dedicated to assisting public, educational and non-profit entities in the management of their professional liability exposures including educators liability insurance. We are dedicated to providing state-of-the-art professional underwriting management and loss control advisory services on behalf of our designated carriers. For more information, call us toll-free at (800) 586-6502.