As debate over how and when to reopen schools continues across the country, a Missouri school district has come under criticism for adding coronavirus language to schools' athletics participation liability waiver. Ahead of the upcoming school year, Hazelwood School District in suburban St. Louis updated a liability waiver parents are required to sign to authorize students' voluntary participation in athletic programs to include language absolving the district of legal liabilities for injuries or death that occur as a result of COVID-19.
In a statement released Tuesday, Hazelwood School District moved to clarify that the waiver only pertained to parents with children who would be participating in voluntary athletics programs or activities through the school. "There is no COVID-19 waiver for parents who select the education option that includes in-person school," the school said. "Parents who want their child to participate in athletics are asked to sign a waiver. This year's waiver includes language about COVID-19 to ensure that parents can make an informed decision."
The waiver asks 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." Parents are also asked to confirm they will not allow their child to participate in any athletics programs or activities if they show symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to another individual confirmed or suspected to have the virus. A third section of the waiver asks parents to acknowledge that "Hazelwood School District cannot prevent the possible transmission or contraction of COVID-19."
By signing the waiver, parents agree "to release, discharge, hold harmless and indemnify the Hazelwood School District, [its] agents, employees, officers, Board of Education members, insurers, and others acting on the District's behalf 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 participation in the above-mentioned program or activity and related in any way to COVID-19."
The district has stressed that no students will be required to participate in athletics. In fact, the district claimed on Twitter that "parents asked for sports programs." Romper has reached out to Hazelwood School District for additional comment and a list of athletics programs that would require parents to sign the updated liability waiver.
According to Hazelwood School District, the waiver was created by the Missouri Unified School Insurance Council (MUSIC) and will be used for athletics participation by all districts the council covers. In a June 9 update to members, MUSIC announced it was providing two waivers related to potential COVID-19 exposure after receiving requests about their use. Romper has reached out to MUSIC for additional comment.
While the school district has pushed back against criticism of their use of the waiver, many have continued to question it. "Student athletes may very well get COVID-19 from playing & infect student(s) who don't play if they attend class in person," Missouri state Rep. Raychel Proudie tweeted Tuesday. "THOSE kids won’t have liability waivers."
Earlier this month, KCUR reported the Missouri State Board of Education had passed a series of emergency rules to enable school districts that opt for hybrid learning models to bypass attendance-related funding penalties. As a result, schools are not required to reopen to full-time, in-person instruction. That being said, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday the state was "confident that if schools implement [the state's recently released K-12 school reopening health guidance], they CAN safely reopen this fall."
Parents of Hazelwood School District students are currently being given the option of enrolling their child in virtual-only school or a hybrid learning model that blends in-person instruction with remote learning, according to a message on the district's webpage. Parents have until July 24 to notify the school of their preferred education model, a choice that will remain final for the entire school year.
"Our district has implemented unprecedented safety precautions in all of our buildings; however, it is important for parents to understand that school districts can only mitigate the risk of COVID-19," Hazelwood School District said in its statement. "No district, organization, or business can offer 100% protection against exposure to a global pandemic."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.