Liability Waivers in Catholic Schools

It use to be that social norms kept us from discussing politics and religion as topics of conversation with just about anyone. School is the new taboo topic. I am a completely child free individual. I have no one under thirty in my extended family. I sit on the Financial Advisory Board of my parish’s elementary school. And, right now, I do not talk at all about the topic of kids going back to school full time. IF your Diocese decides to reopen its schools with in person learning. IF you make that decision to let your kids go back to school. The tough stuff is not over! In order to get your child back into school, you are probably going to have to sign a Liability Waiver.

This is big business for lawyers. It requires drafting it, communicating about it, and eventually getting it signed by many parents and teachers alike, and let us not forget examining the signed waivers once they are returned. That can be a lot of billable hours. Chances are it will not be easy for some people to comprehend what they are being told to sign. It may even be frightening. When you sign it, you may be giving up every possibility of ever suing the school, diocese, bishop, pastor, or anyone else listed in the waiver, in the event your child becomes ill with covid. I ran into one of these myself, in of all places, my hair salon.

When I went into my hair salon last week, I had my face mask, metal door pull, eye shield, personal pen, and hand sanitizer. I was ready. The owner of the shop immediately brought me a register I had to sign (asking a lot of personal info) waiving a giant bottle of hand sanitizer, and, a Liability Waiver. I was a little amused by this until I read it. (Other Lawyers amuse other lawyers often). It was four pages and came in two parts. The first part asked me to agree to about eighteen paragraphs such as “Covid is a deadly viral disease; it is dangerous coming into a beauty salon today; and it is my own, voluntary choice to come in for this service”. Once I got through two pages of this, having checked off all of the ” I Agree blocks”, I moved on to Part Two, page three, the actual waiver. It outlined the things I swear I will never do, like sue the shop and owner, or ask for a jury trial if I did. It took me about fifteen minutes to get through all of this, and I have seen these before!

Anybody can sue anybody for anything. It doesn’t matter if you have not one shred of evidence or signed a waiver. As long as you have the filing fees to the Court, you can file, with or without a lawyer. You may not get very far, but along the way, someone may offer you a token amount just to get rid of you. That’s what is called a Nuisance Suit. But to the point here, some people think you can never truly waive your legal rights especially for someone else, like your child.

This all reminds me of tickets to sporting events and parking lot tickets. Usually on the back, in the smallest print you have ever seen, it says that just by using the ticket, you waive any rights you have to sue over a stolen car or medical expenses from a hockey puck to the mouth. You don’t waive anything by using the ticket. But actually signing a waiver to get your child into school takes on a new dimension. Are you being forced? If you do not sign it, does your child sit home? Do you lose your job? If your child contracts the virus, what are the circumstances of catching the virus? How do you even prove how a child caught the virus?

Based on that last question, I wonder how effective and even necessary a Liability Waiver is to protect the schools. Does this waiver protect a teacher, a parent or more so, the child? If the only entity protected by the waiver is the school, how fair or equitable or Christian, is a Liability Waiver in this situation? If one of these schools has a signed waiver in hand giving up any possible right your child has legally, just how dedicated are they going to be in protecting your child in school? That waiver is a Get Out of Jail Free card and when I had one of those playing Monopoly, I would get a little reckless.

For any attorney out there cursing me as stupid or out of touch, I never, thankfully, did personal injury work in my law practice. I get that if fifty out of sixty campers get covid five days after they started camp, it might be an easier law suit to win. At least give them their day in court. And besides, you may end up representing that child, as your first case in your new, personal injury practice.

I never signed the waiver at my hair salon. What I thought would happen, happened. I put it back on the counter and no one checked to see if I signed it, and I left looking beautiful with my legal rights intact. I do not think for a minute this will work for a parent with a Catholic School that has a Diocesan Attorney who drafted a waiver, to bully every parent into submission and signing the waiver. In the end, you have no choice if you want your child in that school. Have it looked over by a lawyer if you can. If you are not flush with money for this luxury, look into a free law consult. At least you will know exactly what you are signing, even if it is non-negotiable with your Catholic school. And that is one very sad, and less than just, situation. And, make absolutely certain you get a copy of what you sign.

So, in a nutshell. Liability Waivers for Catholic Schools is a hot topic and if you call a Diocese right now and ask whether or not you are going to have to sign one to have your child go to school, there will be “It’s under consideration” and no real answer. School is less than a month off. If a Diocese expects to have parents sign a waiver, the waivers should be available in advance to give a parent time to actually consider it or get their own legal advice. Slipping it into a pile of papers for a parent to sign, without any explanation or assistance, is just plain sleazy. This is not MASH and the Diocese is not Radar O’Reilly getting Colonel Blake to sign his daily paperwork. This is a child with a parent who is just trying to do the best they can under the most overwhelming circumstances.

If you do not sign the waiver, your child will most likely not be allowed to go to that school. Make a mental note if someone actually tells you that. That is a pressure a court should consider if this ever ends up in Court.

If you sign it and your child becomes infected with the virus at school, and you can prove it, you may never be able to make your child whole again, which is the purpose of the civil courts in the first place.

With all of this on the table, know what you are signing. And make sure your child is conditioned to wear a mask and wash her hands, a lot. A novena could help too. Because if the Diocese or parish requires you to sign a waiver to get your child back to school, it’s not your child’s interest they are concerned with.

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