Berkeley Co. School District requires parents to sign COVID waiver for in-person instruction

Updated: Jul. 20, 2020 at 10:43 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Berkeley County School District is requiring parents to sign a waiver for their children to return to schools for in-person instruction during the coronavirus pandemic.

The waiver says any parent that signs it assumes the risk and responsibility if their child gets sick or even dies from COVID-19, and some parents are critical of the district’s requirement for their signatures.

“I think it’s really alarming that they are asking parents to get really comfortable with the idea of signing away the liability for keeping our children safe when they aren’t explaining to us what they are doing to make it happen,” Berkeley County parent Jamie Harris said. “It’s really just asking us to have blind faith in a school district that has demonstrated in the past that they are woefully unprepared to deal with the needs of our students.”

District officials said the waiver is necessary to reopen schools during this pandemic.

“The waiver is necessary to have a voluntary re-opening of schools during a pandemic when risk – both known and unknown – cannot be quantified. Further, it is important in our view that families make informed decisions that agreeing to in-person instruction comes with the risks associated with exposure to COVID-19 and is part of our commitment to transparency that we cannot fully guarantee social distancing, for example, or that persons in our school will not be exposed to this virus,” according to the district.

Because the waiver is specific to the coronavirus, Lowcountry attorney Mark Peper says it doesn’t strip parents of all of their rights to hold the district accountable.

“Our courts are very clear, you cannot waive your right to sue someone or bring a claim for someone’s gross negligence or reckless conduct,” Peper said.

He believes the waiver is the district’s attempt to make sure parents understand the risks involved in their child returning to school.

“What they’re simply saying to these parents out there is we cannot guarantee that we can, 100 percent of the time, abide by all of the CDC guidelines, recommendations. Knowing that, if you would still would like to send your child to school…we just need you to sign you’re understanding and assuming the risks associated with this pandemic,” Peper said. “It would be an extremely uphill battle to prove for sure that the proximate cause of COVID-19 was the school itself.”

For those who don’t want to sign the waiver, parents will have to choose one of the district’s virtual or blended learning options.

Teachers are currently not being asked to sign this waiver in Berkeley County.

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