Do Parents Have to Sign School Waivers?
Back-to-school time brings with it a heap of paperwork and other requirements parents must review and sign. Before you sign your name on the dotted line, take the time to fully read and comprehend what your school is asking you to agree to do. It can be tempting to skip over reading some of these documents because you are tired of dealing with them year after year. No matter how appealing it is to gloss over the text to go straight to the signature line, it can be a huge mistake to give (or remove) your consent without a full understanding of school policy and procedure.
Hidden in that stack of papers about the school code of conduct and protocol for bus transportation likely is a school liability waiver or two. These waivers cover everything from school field trips to participating in extracurricular activities. Parents should never sign school waivers without first reading the fine print.
What is a school waiver?
Before we can explain why you should never sign a school waiver without reading it, we must first explain the purpose of a school waiver. Liability waivers seek to prohibit lawsuits against a school (or its employees) for any injuries to students. Whether they are on a field trip with their class at the local zoo or playing football against a rival team, the assumption is that parents agree it is not the school’s fault if their children suffer an injury.
What school waivers cover
School waivers cover individual schools, school districts, administrators, coaches, and other staff members who regularly interact with your children. They protect covered parties from what is known as ordinary negligence. There is a difference between gross negligence and ordinary negligence.
Ordinary negligence is the failure to use a level of care and caution expected in similar circumstances. Ordinary negligence comes down to careless mistakes or inattention, but never deliberate actions. Gross negligence is the opposite. It involves purposeful and reckless disregard for another person’s safety that causes harm to them or their property.
Most school waivers cover ordinary negligence. When gross negligence occurs, you are within your rights to pursue legal action, regardless of whether you signed a school waiver.
Enforcing school waivers
Most parents never think about the ramifications of signing a school waiver until their child is injured. Waivers are not a free pass for schools or their employees. Let’s say a student-athlete twists an ankle while competing with her school team. The school is not liable for that injury. If the student is injured on the way to the game or during the game due to the gross negligence of a school staff member or coach, there are ways around school waivers about injuries.
New Mexico courts tend to apply moderate standards to school waivers and other exculpatory agreements. Working around a school waiver for liability means proving intent. If your child was injured due to someone else’s careless behavior or a deliberate act intended to cause harm, then a personal injury attorney can review your case and recommend the best course of action. Courts have found that some school liability waivers are unenforceable. When courts rule this way, it means the entire waiver is invalid, not just parts of it.
Questions to ask before signing a school waiver
Before you sign your name on the dotted line, there are several questions you should ask. The first and most important is whether your child still can participate in the activity if you refuse to sign the waiver. If the answer to that question is yes, then there is no reason to sign it. If the waiver is mandatory and your child wants to participate in the activity, then you should sign it or explain to your child why you are not comfortable doing so.
The second question you should ask is if the waiver applies to the intended activity. Sometimes schools will use blanket waivers. Never sign anything that is not specific to the extracurricular activity or another school event in which your child is asking to participate.
Get a second opinion
Parents who are unsure about whether they must sign a school waiver can consult with a personal injury attorney. They can review the language of the waiver and explain your rights and responsibilities. Reach out to Atkinson Law with your questions about school waivers. We can schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.