Insurance issues related to COVID-19 present a challenge for playing winter sports

  • St. Charles East's Elle McCaslin and Wheaton Warrenville South's Lily Huntzinger compete for a loose basketball during a game in Wheaton last season.

    St. Charles East's Elle McCaslin and Wheaton Warrenville South's Lily Huntzinger compete for a loose basketball during a game in Wheaton last season. John Starks | Staff Photographer

Updated 11/6/2020 2:09 PM

While school districts wrangle with a decision on playing basketball this winter, another reality they face is that liability insurance companies are not covering claims related to COVID-19.

The day the Illinois High School Association announced that it was moving ahead with basketball season in spite of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's latest mandates, Barrington District 220 superintendent Brian Harris received a letter from the district's liability insurance company reminding him that it does not cover COVID claims.


Harris isn't sure why COVID claims aren't covered, and a call to the co-op's risk management company, Gallagher Risk Management in Rolling Meadows, went unanswered.

But being exposed to a possible lawsuit without any liability coverage to fall back on is not a position that any superintendent wants to be in.

"The last thing you want is a bunch of lawsuits. No one wants that," Harris confirmed. "Part of my fiduciary responsibility as the superintendent of a school district is to protect our district and our staff so that we don't put ourselves in a situation where we expose ourself like that.

"One of the things I'm going to talk to my school board about is how much exposure is our board willing to take toward policy and liability related to (issues such as playing sports like basketball). That's what every school district right now is trying to weigh."

School districts say that trying to find that delicate balance between keeping students engaged and participating in school and extracurriculars while also keeping them safe is difficult in good years.

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It's been a tightrope walk in 2020.

"We look to the Illinois Department of Public Health for guidance and people might not agree with the guidance we get," Warren District 121 superintendent John Ahlgrim said. "But school safety and student safety is such a high priority for us.

"I'm not sure if we've ever created a waiver for something that was considered to be of high risk in the first place, in this case basketball. We're not in the business of doing that and we probably shouldn't do that. As much as we can, we are not supposed to be engaging in things that are high risk.

"Sometimes we are maybe more conservative, and maybe that's ok. In general, schools are looking at it through a lens of not doing things that are unsafe."

And right now, Illinois has deemed basketball unsafe.

Until that changes, fear of lawsuits and liability will keep basketballs at high schools firmly on the ball rack.

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