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Liability Concerns Tilt Rapid City School Board Toward Requiring Masks in School

If science and conscience won’t convince your school district require masks to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, call in the lawyers.

The Rapid City School Board voted last night to require teachers and students to wear masks at school, swayed in part by the Associated School Boards of South Dakota’s concern that districts that don’t take sufficient precautions to fight the pandemic could get sued:

Assistant Superintendent Mark Gabrylczyk shared information from the ASBSD that he said would keep the district open to liability if mask requirements weren’t put forward. The ASBSD had used SDCL 20-9-1 as their basis to put forth more mask requirements statewide.

“District, board, board members, administrators, etc. could be sued during the pandemic should someone be infected, just as they could be sued on other claims before COVID-19 hit,” the ASBSD wrote on the PowerPoint that Gabrylczyk shared.

Gabrylczyk said the board doesn’t have a choice to forgo a mask requirement.

“We have a duty to keep everyone safe who’s on our campuses,” he said [Morgan Matzen, “School Board Votes to Require Masks for Students, Staff,” Rapid City Journal, 2020.08.10].

The statute cited is South Dakota’s injury liability law: “Every person is responsible for injury to the person, property, or rights of another caused by his willful acts or caused by his want of ordinary care or skill, subject in the latter cases to the defense of contributory negligence.”

Boy, even Kristi Noem and her in-person mask-discouragement tour may not be able to beat back an argument from the lawyers that masks and other modifications of normal school procedures are part of the ordinary care and skill we can properly expect from every organization to help protect everyone from the harms of a pandemic.


  1. jerry 2020-08-11 08:48

    We’re already here on that mfi. I hear those bikers drowning out sensible science for a couple of bucks in the pocket. Idaho is just catching up. Notice that all the kooks all look the same?

  2. o 2020-08-11 08:50

    Finally the language that business (because we are no longer a society) recognizes: do the right thing, not because it is right or because it will help the greater good, or even keep people alive and safe, but because not doing it will affect your bottom line.

  3. J 2020-08-11 08:56

    It looks like the RC board voted to require masks but will not enforce the policy? Not sure what that means. Do you know?

  4. Donald Pay 2020-08-11 10:25

    When I was on the RC school board we created policy banning spaghetti straps. That was an add on to our ban on gang or obscene slogans on clothing. It was enforced. Most districts enforce similar policy for reasons that are less critical than the currant situation. They enforce vaccination requirements for valid health reasons. There’s no reason not to enforce the policy except cowardice.

  5. mike from iowa 2020-08-11 10:37

    There’s no reason not to enforce the policy except cowardice.

    Is it possible wingnuts really do hate a fetus after it is forced to be born. Wingnuts are dead set against paying for, feeding, schooling and insuring kids of all kinds.

    Even with masks, there will be mass illness just because the bodies are in close proximity to others.

  6. Donald Pay 2020-08-11 11:12

    MFI is right. I don’t think schools should fully open. If they use a hybrid model, they might be able to create enough space to socially distance. Even that creates more risk than I would be comfortable with.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-08-11 11:41

    J, I don’t know how we square adopting a policy but not adopting enforcement mechanisms. But enforcing the policy shouldn’t require ongoing board action; the teachers and principals should be able to say, “Put on your mask,” and the kids should do it.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-08-11 11:44

    I’m hearing that the RCJ coverage’s focus on the liability issue missed far greater points raised in the school board discussion for requiring masks.

  9. mike from iowa 2020-08-11 12:54

    WalMart has a policy for everyone to wear masks in their stores but due to numerous confrontations between employees and customers, decided not to enforce mask policy. This was a couple weeks ago and may have changed since then.

  10. bearcreekbat 2020-08-11 14:03

    mfi, for what an anecdote may be worth I visited the east side Walmart in Rapid City yesterday and was pleased to see that they were now offering a free mask at the store entrance to anyone who didn’t have one. As I shopped inside the store mask compliance appeared to be at 99 % – I saw lots of bikers, tourists and locals shopping but noticed only one individual who appeared to be intentionally exposing his mouth and nose while wearing a disposable mask on his neck.

  11. mike from iowa 2020-08-11 16:08

    Spencer, iowa Walmart shut down all entrances except one so everyone had to go the same route and could collect a mask as they went in. No customers were allowed to bring in carts from outside to shop with. They were all wiped down and there was hand sanitizer And wipes available.

    My mask broke the elastic band so I had to go back to the entrance and get a new mask. My whiskers were too busy for the mask to stay in place so i sacrificed some pesos and got hair and whiskers trimmed up close.

    Stay safe bcb and family.

  12. Jake 2020-08-11 17:59

    Kinda looks like Biden/Harris will inherit a MESS from Trump’s foibles just like Obama did from Bush! The GOP loves to hold the power of government
    but just can’t seem to govern for the good of all when they get elected! You can blame “No Football” on the GOP this year……

  13. Debbo 2020-08-11 18:36

    The biggest problem will probably come from students whose parents encourage them to defy mask requirements.

    Jake, the mess Biden/Harris inherit will be orders of magnitude worse than W’s leavings. They’re going to have to rebuild the government, the economy, the culture, the constitution, law enforcement and our standing in the world.

  14. mike from iowa 2020-08-11 18:41

    Wingnuts do not know how to govern, what the constitution means, how government is supposed to work or that the courts are supposedly neutral purveyors of justice for all.

    Wingnuts are well versed in crying victimhood and blaming Dems for their incompetencies. They can pass the buck with the best of them and spend tax dollars with no idea how to get more revenues to waste.

  15. Scott 2020-08-11 18:55

    Whenever I’m in a business where I am not seeing employees wearing masks, I always wonder how that business would defend itself (in a lawsuit) if there was an outbreak of Covid-19 within the workforce. The science is there on what is appropriate to do, so it is not like a few months ago when there was a lot of uncertainty. These big box and chain stores obviously have been requiring masks and that certainly is in part a risk management decision.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-08-12 07:22

    Scott, I’m hoping that the box-store example will seep into the public conscience and move more school districts toward sensible interventions.

  17. cibvet 2020-08-12 13:26

    The last time I was in a subway, there were no masks,hairnets or beard nets on those behind the counter. I left and know its unlikely that I would catch covid 19 from eating the virus, but figured the snot and hair in a sandwich should be left to those who don’t believe in masks.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-08-13 11:55

    It’s not so much what’s in the sandwich as what’s in the air. If they’re not wearing masks, they’re probably giving your coronavirus before you even touch your lunch.

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