Stillwater School District’s Insurance Will Cover 3 Legal Challenges to BOLD

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The legal challenges to Stillwater Area Public Schools’ BOLD plan that includes the closing of three elementary schools next year won’t cost taxpayers more than $100,000, after all.

Insurance will cover the three lawsuits brought against the district by VOICE 834 and Melissa Douglas, according to Stillwater Area Public Schools. The lawsuits were filed in response to the school board’s approval of Superintendent Denise Pontrelli’s BOLD plan that includes the closure of Withrow, Oak Park and Marine elementary schools.

The district has said that their insurance does not cover the legal fees relating to the three lawsuits — and that all of the legal expenses would come from the general fund that pays for teachers, support staff, curriculum and other things that directly support students.

This week, the district posted this update about legal fees to the district’s “Fact Check” webpage:

Insurance to coverage (sic) a portion of legal costs related to school closure

After an initial denial of coverage by its insurance company, the district has received notice that underwriters have amended and clarified coverage for the three lawsuits related to the closure of schools.

Legal expenses incurred in the defense of the Melissa Douglas lawsuit, as well as the two suits brought by 834 Voice, will be covered, subject to deductibles and limits.

“It is not unusual for insurance providers to deny a claim first, and then find a way to cover it later,” said Tom Lehmann, board member. “Bottom line we’re all paying for it somehow. To say this is a win is somewhat misleading, but this will certainly help with finances for district. Thanks to our finance team for their persistence in seeking coverage for these lawsuits.

According to information shared at the Stillwater School Board meeting Thursday night, the district’s coverage includes a $15,000 deductible, and a $250,000 limit for each lawsuit.

The two 834 VOICE lawsuits are included together as one claim. Melissa Douglas’ challenge is considered a second claim.

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Soon after the district’s “Fact Check” webpage was launched, the cost of legal fees garnered media attention from the Pioneer Press and Stillwater Gazette — and became a hot topic around town.

The district uses the new “Fact Check” webpage to debunk “myths” that are being spread around the community, Bob McDowell, the executive director of learning and innovation, told the Stillwater School Board earlier this month.

The original post relating to a “myth” that legal fees incurred by lawsuits against the district relating to school closures was covered by insurance is no longer published on the district’s website.

This is how the information about legal fees was originally communicated to staff:

“There has been some confusion in our community as to the real cost of lawsuits and data requests to the school district. Here are a few facts. Watch our Fact Check webpage for updated information later this week about the costs of data requests.

Fact: The district has spent more than $118,000 on legal fees in lawsuits related to school closures.

Fact: Our insurance does not cover these expenses.

Fact: All of these expenses are coming from the general fund – the same fund that pays for teachers, support staff, curriculum and other things that directly support our students.”

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