Lawmakers advance bill to limit immunity, encourage information on violent incidents

Following measured but heart-wrenching testimony from the parents of slain Arapahoe High student Claire Davis, a Senate committee on Monday endorsed a bill to limit school district immunity and encourage the flow of information on events leading up to violent school incidents.

“Please don’t make the next mother beg for answers to why her child was killed in a public school in the state of Colorado,” Desiree Davis said to lawmakers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB 15-213 on a 4-1 vote. The bill would waive sovereign immunity for claims against school districts and charter schools related to incidents that result in serious injuries or deaths.

It also is intended to promote “robust and vigorous discovery of events leading to…incidents of school violence.”

Michael Davis, Claire’s father, testified that only limited information is available regarding how the school dealt with shooter Karl Pierson’s erratic behavior and threats he made prior to Claire’s murder in December 2013. The school and Littleton Public Schools “have made a conscious and deliberate choice,” he said. “They’ve chosen to remain absolutely silent.”

Without passage of the bill, Michael Davis said, schools and school districts “can continue to shield themselves with a cloak of secrecy to hide their actions or inactions from victims, parents, students, lawmakers and other citizens of this state.”

Opponents, including the associations of school boards and school executives, contended the measure would establish an unreasonably low threshold of liability for school districts.

“This bill create a lot of exposure for schools,” said Sonje McKenzie, general counsel for the Cherry Creek School District. Because the language of SB 15-213 would be subject to interpretation, she added, “the result will be that if students engage in any kind of misconduct that in any way, shape or form could be deemed a safety issue, school administrators are going to have no choice other than to suspend or expel them.”

The Davis family and Littleton Public Schools recently agreed to a process that includes full discovery of events that led to the Arapahoe High shooting.

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