Spengler, J.O., Connaughton, D.P., & Maddock, J.E. (2011). Liability Concerns and Shared Use of School Recreational Facilities in Underserved Communities. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 41(4), 415-420.
BACKGROUND: In underserved communities, schools can provide the physical structure and facilities for informal and formal recreation as well as after-school, weekend, and summer programming. The importance of community access to schools is acknowledged by authoritative groups; however, fear of liability is believed to be a key barrier to community access. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to investigate perceptions of liability risk and associated issues among school administrators in underserved communities. METHODS: A national survey of school administrators in underserved communities (n=360, response rate of 21%) was conducted in 2009 and analyzed in 2010. Liability perceptions in the context of community access were assessed through descriptive statistics. RESULTS: The majority of respondents (82.2%) indicated concern for liability should someone be injured on school property after hours while participating in a recreational activity. Among those that did not allow community access, 91% were somewhat to very concerned about liability and 86% believed that stronger legislation was needed to better protect schools from liability for after-hours recreational use. Among those who claimed familiarity with a state law that offered them limited liability protection, nearly three fourths were nevertheless concerned about liability. CONCLUSIONS: Liability concerns are prevalent among this group of school administrators, particularly if they had been involved in prior litigation, and even if they indicated they were aware of laws that provide liability protection where use occurs after hours. Reducing these concerns will be important if schools are to become locations for recreational programs that promote physical activity outside of regular school hours.