CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Parents who’ve already made a tough decision to send their kids back to school this fall are now faced with another choice.
Are they willing to waive any liability in connection with exposure to COVID in the classroom?
Several private school parents have pushed all summer for administrators to return to school in person. Many got that granted, but with the caveat.
We’ve seen “COVID waivers” required this summer for extracurricular activities and sports.
But now, 19 Investigators have confirmed that many private schools in Northeast Ohio are asking parents to sign one for any student returning to in-person learning this fall.
A local catholic school parent sent us a copy of an additional form they were asked to sign this year.
It outlines the measures the school has taken to prevent the spread of COVID 19, but also says “the possibility of serious illness and death remains... despite all efforts to reduce that risk.”
The Diocese of Cleveland tells 19 News each of its catholic schools will be using the form, and sent us an official copy of it.
They call it an acknowledgement, rather than a “waiver of liability”
Regardless, it says by singing, parents “accept and assume sole responsibility for any illness acquired while at the school, including possible infection with COVID 19.”
School safety expert Ken Trump says the waiver ups anxiety in an already uncertain time.
“I just think that it is a bad move in terms of the messaging,” he said. “The waiver sends a message that school officials are not 100 percent confident that they’ve done everything to make schools safe and that they are worried that there’s something missing.”
When we brought Trump’s concern to the diocese, a spokesperson said,
“I don’t know that parents need to go hiring an attorney,” Trump said. “But, you have to decide whether you are comfortable or not.”
19 Investigates discovered, it’s not just area catholic schools under the diocese sending out this type of form.
Private school parents in Rocky River were asked to sign a document to “waive and release Lutheran West from any and all liability or responsibility in connection with exposure, infection, and/or spread of COVID-19 related to my student(s) attendance at Lutheran West.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Lutheran West said,
In Shaker Hieghts, parents signing a similar form are acknowledging that “attending school may pose a risk of infection regardless of measures taken by Hathaway Brown School.”
In a statement, Head of School Dr. Fran Bisselle said,
The question remains though, is how far schools will go to get a signature on the documents.
“Are school officials simply sending the waivers home hoping that parents sign them and send them back and all is well? Or will they actually when push comes to shove, tell parents ‘No. You can’t send your kids to school unless we have this?” Tump said.
When we asked the diocese, a spokesperson said quote “If parents are reluctant to acknowledge the document, they are asked to have a conversation with their school leadership.”
Some of the forms we’ve seen include a spot for the student themselves to sign.
Tump says it's not legally possible for a minor to enter into a legal contract though.
In the days to follow, 19 News plans to follow up on the legality of the waivers in genera-- how much protection can they really offer?
They may very well be out there, but 19 News has yet to learn of any public schools going back in person and requiring parents sign a waiver.