QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. — As students are getting ready to go back to school in-person and online, parents and teachers in one East Valley school district are worried about a waiver that could make it tough to hold a school accountable for the spread of COVID-19.
This week, parents with Queen Creek Unified School District tell 12 News that a waiver popped up in their online portal, ParentVue. In an email to parents, the district asked parents to digitally sign the waiver but pointed out that it's optional and that it's not required for a student to attend school.
If signed, a parent would assume all risks and hazards that could come from their child being at school in a pandemic.
"This is a very serious legal document," says teacher and Queen Creek Education Association President Jake Frantz. "This is not something you just click 'I accept' and then move on with your life."
Frantz put out a warning to parents through the association, suggesting they hold off on signing the document, which again, is optional according to the district.
"My biggest concern was that it doesn’t have language in it that says we will do all we can to keep our students safe," Frantz explains.
The Trust Insurance Group, which insures more than 200 school districts in Arizona, initially provided this waiver to all their K-12 and community college districts because they couldn’t cover COVID-19.
Now, they’re working on a plan that will provide coverage, although they still say the waiver is a tool districts can choose to use.
The Trust sent this email statement to 12 News:
The issue of coverage related to COVID-19 is one with which school districts nationwide are grappling. Here in Arizona, The Trust has a responsibility to alert districts and to help our members limit their liability.
Last week, when the information and documents were sent out, COVID-19 coverage was not available. The optional waiver included in those documents was intended as a tool to help districts make the fiscally prudent decisions necessary to bring students and teachers back to school safely.
Since then, a coverage option has been developed. It will be presented to the board at its meeting on August 4 and we expect this solution will be approved.
In a statement to 12 News, Queen Creek Unified School District says the waiver was recommended as a way to “handle potential claims in a more fiscally responsible and prudent manner.”
"Luckily I skipped over it," says Mark Linder. "I didn’t sign it."
But attending school is what former school board member and current parent, Mark Linder, is worried about.
As of right now, Queen Creek Unified Schools is set for students to go back to in-person learning on Aug. 17, with an online option for students starting Aug. 3.
"If the district stays with their 17th hard set date, I’m going to withdraw my daughter and go with a different option," Linder said.
Linder, and some other parents who spoke to 12 News, wishes the district would hold off on a hard start date until after the Arizona Department of Public Health puts out school guidance next Aug. 7.
"What happens if a student gets sick in a classroom?" Linder asks. "What happens if two get sick? If three get sick? At what point do they shut down a classroom?"
The district didn’t provide answers to those questions, but said: "QCUSD maintains communication with state and local health agencies regarding guidance in these situations."
Additionally, the district says their campuses and sites are deep cleaned and sanitized daily and that they're working to set up sanitation stations, that should be in place before in-person learning starts. A district representative even pointed to a video on the Queen Creek Unified School District's Facebook page that demonstrates how they’re deep-cleaning.
"We all want to go back," Frantz said. "But if we do it wrong. If we’re unsafe about it. We end up with schools closed down again because an outbreak flared up."