PE Liability Issues: How to Protect Yourself

Physical education is a high risk activity. Accidents can and do happen. The important issue is to try to prevent accidents by making a number of pre-teaching and instructional decisions. A quality curriculum and sound teaching practices will minimize the chance of a lawsuit for malpractice. Take a listen to the podcast for more!

[0:02]  Let’s just take a quick refresh of liability today and talk a little bit about a couple of things you can do to cover yourself and make sure if there is an accident that it was well thought out and you’re not going to be held liable for the accident.

Protect Yourself with a Written Curriculum

[0:36]  I’m often asked why follow a curriculum and I can tell you one of the greatest reasons for following a written curriculum is that if there ever are any lawsuits or liabilities or accidents that occur if it’s written by someone who’s credible and the curriculum is on paper, and your administrator knows what you’re teaching, you’re going to be in a very defensible position. If you just shoot from the hip and play a different activity every day and it happens to be an activity where somebody gets hit in the face, maybe that activity is perfectly okay, but it wasn’t in the curriculum. It wasn’t written. It’s hard to find approval from any experts who would prove it and you’re going to be standing alone when someone gets ready to question you about the accident.

Physical education is a high risk activity. Accidents can and do happen. A quality curriculum and sound teaching practices will minimize the chance of a lawsuit. #PhysEd Click To Tweet

[1:29] After the curriculum, you look at the lesson plan and if you have a written lesson plan, and it’s well organized, and it’s based on your yearly curriculum, there’s a good chance that there’s not going to be too much to say if it was a proper lesson.

Now, what is a proper lesson? Well, usually the activities that are taught are adapted to the developmental level of students. In other words, in elementary school, there’s a wide range of development and even though they’re all 3rd graders, some people may not be able to do some of the activities. So you want to make sure that the activities you’re offering are not overly challenging and overly risky. Another issue you need to think about is forcing students to do something. If a student is fearful and doesn’t want to try something because they think they might get hurt, you have to honor that in all cases. If they’re afraid of getting hurt, they should be able to choose not to perform an activity and you have to be very careful about not embarrassing them into it and saying, “well, look, all the others tried it, you should try it. It’s not gonna hurt you.” Because all you need is to have somebody get hurt and then away we go with the lawsuit.

Take Parent Notes Seriously!

[2:47] Students often bring notes from parents saying, I don’t want my child to participate today. It’s right at the time when you’re getting ready to start your class. You’re busy. You don’t think about it. Maybe you don’t even honor it. Maybe you ask them to get in there and then I’ll look at the notes. Any note from the parent has to be honored. If you have some concern and you think that the parents just writing it without cause probably your best bet is to go to your school nurse and have them look at it because they are a health agent and they can communicate with the parent objectively. As physical educators oftentimes we have a tendency having been raised in sports to tell them to you know, “are you sure you can go give it a try. I bet you can do I bet you’ll be okay.” And then all you need to do is have an injury or somebody get overly sick or, or you know, go home crying about it. And you’re going to be in a lot of trouble after the parent had gone out of their way to write a note so you have to honor those notes.

Students often bring notes from parents saying, I don't want my child to participate today... Any note from the parent has to be honored. #PhysEd Click To Tweet

Teach from the Perimeter

[3:52] Just a couple of thoughts about where you set up in the gym. I mean, one of the best things to do is always as I mentioned on a number of occasions, teach from the perimeter so that you have your entire class within your view. There’s nothing worse to have an accident and then have to tell somebody I didn’t see it. I didn’t see what happened and they’re going to look at you and say, “What do you mean you didn’t see it? You were the teacher, they’re right here in the teaching area, how could you not see them?” It’s very possible you won’t see them, but if you don’t set up on the perimeter where you can see everybody, the odds get much stronger that you are going to miss something. So try to keep all your students within eyesight, move on a regular basis, so you’re near all of them, and you’ll probably not have an issue with liability.

Keep all your students within eyesight and move on a regular basis so you're near all of them and you'll probably not have any issue with liability. - @rpangrazi Click To Tweet

All the best to you. Thanks for being teachers. Talk to you later.

Dr. Robert Pangrazi is a Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University and an Educational Consultant for Gopher Sport. Dr. Pangrazi has been in the education field over 50 years. He began his career as a 5th grade teacher and was an ASU professor of physical education for 32 years. Pangrazi has published over 60 textbooks and 100 research and professional articles. He has been an invited speaker at nearly 500 national and international conferences.

Dr. Robert Pangrazi is a Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University and an Educational Consultant for Gopher Sport. Dr. Pangrazi has been in the education field over 50 years. He began his career as a 5th grade teacher and was an ASU professor of physical education for 32 years. Pangrazi has published over 60 textbooks and 100 research and professional articles. He has been an invited speaker at nearly 500 national and international conferences.

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