Faced with a liability insurance crisis, the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) board on Oct. 28 voted to allow only district students and employees to use the ropes course installed with a federal grant.
As originally planned, PUSD could have allowed corporations and other third parties to use the course for training. In fact, the federal grant the district used to install the intricate system of climbing ropes required the district to come up with a plan to encourage community use that would pay for its upkeep. However, the board members decided the risks outweighed the benefits.
“The peanuts we’re going to bring in will not pay for the liability,” said board member Rory Huff, “And we’d have to change our facilities fees this year and change them back again next year.”
Next year, the board will have to vote whether to keep the course open for staff and students.
Superintendent Ron Hitchcock said the district’s insurance carrier has warned it will not cover the ropes course in the future. The decision comes in the wake of a large injury settlement paid out to a Tucson student injured using a similar ropes course, according to Hitchcock. The case prompted the district’s insurance carrier to drop coverage of injuries related to use of the ropes course next year. Without liability insurance, not even PUSD employees or students may use the ropes course, said Hitchcock.
Monday’s vote signals the beginning of the end for the ropes course.
Originally funded by the P.E.P. (Physical Education Program) grant, the ropes course cost $213,000, all covered by federal grants. The students and P.E. teachers loved the course, but Hitchcock said it is impossible to keep open without liability insurance.
Payson is not the only school district to have troubles with insurance.
“The way the nationwide insurance on ropes courses is going, I would support not opening it up to the public,” said board member Shirley Dye.
The board said it had seen research from around the nation that insurance companies will no longer provide liability insurance at a reasonable rate. Most districts were choosing to dismantle their ropes course adventure programs rather than attempting to pay the exorbitant increases in insurance payments.
Looks like Payson will do the same.
In previous interviews, Hitchcock noted that while the risk of injury remains very low on the ropes course, the dynamics of the insurance industry doomed the facility. Only a handful of schools have ropes courses, which means that only a few schools pay into the risk pool to cover injuries.
By contrast, most high schools have football programs — where the risk of injury is actually much greater. However, because all of the schools essentially pay into the risk pool — payments remain manageable. By contrast, the small pool of schools with ropes courses would have to pay high enough premiums to cover the cost of a rare, but expensive mishap.