Liability waivers aren’t new. Anytime you engage in a potentially dangerous activity with an organization or business you are required to sign one. The waiver releases the operator from any responsibility should injury, bodily harm, or even death occur.
Sky diving? Heli-Skiing? Scuba Diving? Check, check, check.
But it’s not just extreme sports companies that have waivers. Schools also require parents to fill out and sign liability releases for their kids. They are mandatory for students to participate in field trips, national and international study tours, and various sporting activities.
However, what’s new is a clause that some schools are adding regarding COVID-19. And to say it’s disturbing is a gross understatement.
A school district in Missouri is being slammed after a copy of their newly-revised waiver for student-athletes was leaked on Twitter.
Hazelwood School District’s “Parent permission and waiver of liability for student participation in Hazelwood School District Athletics/Activities” form absolves the district from any legal liability if a child gets sick and dies from COVID-19.
The three-part waiver requires parents to acknowledge that “federal and state government officials have declared that there currently exists a public health crisis in our country related to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID-19″).”
It also states that parents will not permit their child to participate in any activity if they are displaying symptoms or have been in contact with anyone diagnosed with, or currently being tested for, COVID-19. If the child has been exposed to or contracted the virus they must wait 14 calendar days or produce a negative test before resuming activities.
Additionally, parents must understand that “the Hazelwood School District cannot prevent the possible transmission or contraction of COVID-19 for my child.”
The most chilling part of the waiver, left for the bitter end, reads:
The undersigned agrees to release, discharge, hold harmless and indemnify the Hazelwood School District, it’s agents, employees, officers, Board of Education members, insurers and others acting on the District’s behalf (the Releasees”), of and from any and all claims, demands, causes of action and/or legal liabilities for injuries to or death of my child occurring during, or resulting from, or participation in the above-mentioned program or activity and related in any way to COVID-19, even if the cause, damages or injuries are alleged to be the fault of or alleged to be caused by the negligence or carelessness of the Releasees.
In short? If your child contracts COVID-19 at school AND DIES as a result, EVEN IF THERE IS NEGLIGENCE OR CARELESSNESS ON THE PART OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT, you cannot hold them accountable.
The waiver first came to light when it was posted on Twitter by attorney Natasha Scruggs. She also happens to be an alumnus of the Hazelwood School District. She prefaced the screenshot with the following:
A Missouri public school district sent this “liability waiver” for parents if their child gets sickness/death resulting from being in school. Thoughts?
A Missouri public school district sent this “liability waiver” for parents if their child gets sickness/death resulting from being in school. Thoughts? pic.twitter.com/X7Z336AqPv
— Natasha Scruggs (@NatashaMScruggs) July 14, 2020
Not surprisingly, people had A LOT of thoughts. Reaction to the document was swift and condemning. It quickly became dubbed the “death waiver” and parents didn’t hold back their outrage or disgust.
As somebody who not only lives in MO but the very same public school district?
This sickens me. Horribly.
I saw something similar from the Utah here and I had hoped beyond hope that we wouldn't have needed something like that.
To see that we have…I simply have no words. pic.twitter.com/NOlCVPy7HI
— Mr. Ben (@Drakengarde) July 14, 2020
The Hazelwood School District shot back with their own response to the initial tweet, saying:
This is a false story. HSD doesn't have a COVID-19 waiver for students to attend school in-person. Like all districts, we have a sports waiver that we issue to parents who want their kids to play sports. It includes language about COVID-19 so parents can make informed decisions.
— Hazelwood School District (@HazelwoodSD) July 14, 2020
They also posted a statement to their website and Facebook justifying their position.
The Hazelwood School District is only one of many districts that are implementing a waiver of this kind. CBS Sacramento reported on a similar COVID-19 waiver required for Turlock Unified Schools summer sports program. Additionally, Claiborne County School System in Tennessee required parents to sign a waiver for students participating in its extracurriculars program.
And this isn’t just happening in the United States. A Canadian University, St. Francis Xavier, in Nova Scotia also requires students to sign a COVID-19 liability waiver in order to attend classes in the fall.
While people are clearly upset about the existence of a waiver such as this, at the heart of it, is fear. Fear for the safety of our children if they do return to a classroom in the Fall.
The grim reality is that there are no good choices. There are no clear answers. Making the decision to send our kids back to school is a complex one with a number of underlying factors. Each family has to decide for themselves based on their own circumstances, needs, and challenges.
One thing is for certain, this is one decision that we all wish we didn’t have to make.
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