10/03/05 — School district eyes liability release

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School district eyes liability release

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 3, 2005 1:50 PM

A proposed policy by the Wayne County Public Schools to protect the school system from liability in case of student accidents on field trips might be scuttled even before it comes before the school board for a vote.

The Board of Education could consider the policy at its meeting tonight.

But board Chairman Lehman Smith said Friday board members plan to table the policy "for the time being."

The "liability release" portion of the school's parent/guardian permission form for field trips has caused some alarm among parents and teachers.

Its stated purpose is "to release Wayne County Public Schools from liability for injury, death, or damages for students participating in voluntary off-campus field trips."

What has caused concern is the language that follows:

"I, the undersigned, hereby RELEASE AND DISCHARGE FOREVER, Wayne County Public Schools and the Wayne County Board of Education and all of its officers, agents, and employees, acting in their official capacity, from any and all claims, demands, actions, or causes of action, on account of any injury which may occur from any cause during the field trip and, the undersigned, do further covenant and agree to hold the said Wayne County Public Schools and the Wayne County Board of Education and all of its officers, agents, and employees, acting in their official capacity, harmless for any and all liability for injury or damages which may occur during the field trip."

Lisa Sellers, the parent of a fourth-grade student, said she was so concerned over the wording that she contacted a lawyer.

"It doesn't have a negligence clause," she said. "They're asking us to put our child's life on the line."

Even though in her child's case, the permission slip was for a trip to Raleigh to see "Disney on Ice" and does not involve overnight travel, she said she refused to sign because of its implications.

She said the release has worried many other parents as well as some teachers.

Olivia Pierce, executive director for community relations for the school system, said the proposed policy is in line with those subscribed to by the state Board of Education. She said the school board's lawyer had reviewed the policy and made the recommendation to approve it based on the state policy.

The policy was among several presented to the school board at its September meeting for a first reading, Mrs. Pierce said. School board members had until their next meeting to review it and bring up any questions or concerns, she said. That next meeting is today at 5 p.m.

Smith said the possible tabling of the proposed policy does not necessarily mean there will be no policy enacted, just that the liability release form might not be included at this point. The school board's personnel and policy committee was to meet prior to the regular meeting. The policy could be discussed at that time.

Dr. Sandra McCullen, the schools' associate superintendent for instruction, said she was aware that some parents are concerned by the wording of the proposed policy. She said most of the calls to the school office have been from the Rosewood community.

"It's going to be under review," she said. "There will be more information to come about."

A second portion of the field-trip policy is also causing concern among some parents.

Students who do not have insurance will not be permitted to go on field trips. The permission slip requests parents to provide a photocopy of a valid insurance card and proof that the student has health and/or hospitalization insurance.

That is discriminatory, some mothers said.

Dr. McCullen said the school system will not let financial reasons stand in the way of a student participating in school functions with his or her peers.

"People that do not have insurance, they can apply for it through such programs as N.C. Choice, if they qualify for it on a monthly basis," she said. "We will do everything in our power to help families if they'll let us know their situation."