Penn State students are running into a little hurdle at the school's online portal: a COVID-19 liability waiver. And they have to click "I agree" to get in. "They're basically saying they cannot guarantee our safety," grad student Maggie Hernandez tells Spotlight PA. Penn State is "waiving any responsibility they have," she adds. "They're placing the blame on students." Indeed, the compact says students "assume any and all risk of exposure to COVID-19" from attending Penn State and forces them to "acknowledge that exposure or infection may result in personal injury, illness, permanent disability, or death." The waiver also requires all students, faculty, and staff to take several steps, including seven days of self-quarantine before going to class and wearing a mask on campus "at all times."
Failure to comply can lead to suspension or expulsion. While other institutions have forged similar agreements, Penn State's is "on the more extreme end," says a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. "The first thing I would urge is that [students] do not sign this." Some faculty and students are already pushing back, saying the university's decision to reopen—and include some in-person teaching in half of all classes—is putting people at risk. A Penn State rep says the school is aware of the "anxieties and uncertainties" people have about the waiver, but "we feel it is important that students and families understand there is COVID-19 risk, everywhere in our daily lives." Are the waivers enforceable in court? A litigation lawyer says that will vary state by state, per Inside Higher Ed. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)