August 13, 2020
Penn State University is amending a COVID-19 acknowledgement form that students must sign before returning to campus this fall after students raised concerns about its wording.
University officials announced Thursday that they will modify language stating that students assumed all risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Some students claimed the wording essentially functioned as a liability waiver.
The updated form will be made available to students in the coming days.
Penn State's announcement acknowledged that officials had "heard from some concerned with language requiring students to assume the risks of exposure to COVID-19."
But the interpretation of the form as a waiver of students' rights "was neither the case, nor the intent" of the document, the university's statement said. Its purpose "was to reinforce the university's expectations and requirements, and to see that those requirements were raised to everyone's attention."
The original form was signed by about 64,000 students, the university said. Its wording included the following sentence:
"I assume any and all risk of exposure to COVID-19 that may result from attending Penn State, or participating in Penn State activities, and I acknowledge that exposure or infection may result in personal injury, illness, permanent disability, or death."
"Even with the mitigation steps taken by Penn State and my compliance with this Compact, I acknowledge that Penn State cannot prevent the risks of exposure to COVID-19 that may result from attending Penn State or participating in Penn State activities."
“We hope this clarification addresses the concerns that were raised to us," the university's statement said. "This is not a waiver and was not intended to be. It is an acknowledgement."
The document was developed in response to "the anxieties and uncertainties members of our student community are experiencing," the university added.
The form commits students to following the university's COVID-19 health and safety guidelines or face disciplinary action, including possible expulsion. That includes cooperating with testing and contact tracing efforts, wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and self-quarantining when necessary.
Students are required to self-isolate for a week upon arrival to campus and to stay at home when not feeling well. They are to only travel when necessary, avoid public transportation and practice good hand hygiene.
"We feel it is important that students and families understand there is COVID-19 risk, everywhere in our daily lives, and to reinforce the importance of following the public health guidelines established by the state and public health experts for the return to campus learning," the university said.
Students who are participating in remote learning this semester are not required to sign the form.