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Civil immunity extended for schools

Published (5/6/2011)
By Hank Long
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Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) believes adults and children, particularly those in rural communities, would be more likely to engage in physical activity if schools were more comfortable allowing outside groups to use their recreational amenities.

He sponsors HF1343 that would clarify a statute that provides civil immunity for school districts that make their facilities available for recreational use by the public. The immunity would bar a person from holding the district liable for an injury or loss resulting from the use of the school facility for recreational activity.

The bill was held over May 3 by the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee for possible inclusion in an omnibus policy bill. Its companion, SF1068, sponsored by Sen. Ted Daley (R-Eagan), awaits action by the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.

The bill does not change current law regarding a school district’s liability in allowing public use of its recreational spaces, Dettmer said, but offers comfort language to help clarify the civil immunity.

“This bill removes the barriers to schools to open their doors and their facilities to allow more recreational activities,” said Dettmer, a retired physical education teacher.

The state chapter of the American Heart Association and the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition approached Dettmer to sponsor the legislation. Research shows that people who have regular access to recreational facilities are more likely to exercise, said Rachel Callanan, vice president of advocacy for the Minnesota AHA chapter.

In many rural communities public schools are the only indoor facilities to engage in physical activity, Callanan said.

“Anything that removes hurdles for kids to be physically active is a good strategy,” Dettmer said.

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