We are aware of the anxieties and uncertainties members of our student community are experiencing, and have provided a Penn State COVID-19 Compact that outlines the University’s health and safety requirements and guidelines established for a return to on-campus learning. As part of that Compact, we require students to commit to following these health and safety steps, and to acknowledge the risks of exposure to COVID-19 that exist even with the mitigation steps taken by Penn State and their compliance with the compact. While we have seen a strong response from our student community, with approximately 64,000 students having already agreed to the Compact online, we have heard from some concerned with language requiring students to assume the risks of exposure to COVID-19. Others have misinterpreted the language of the Compact as a waiver of students’ rights, which was neither the case, nor the intent. The Compact was to reinforce the University’s expectations and requirements, and to see that those requirements were raised to everyone’s attention. A large portion of the risk referenced in the Compact is heavily dependent on the overall compliance of students in following the rules the University has set forth. To that end, we have revised the language in the Compact as follows, and it will be available as a second option to students online in the coming days:
- The existing language in question states: “I assume any and all risk of exposure to COVID-19 that may result from attending Penn State, or participating in Penn State activities, and I acknowledge that exposure or infection may result in personal injury, illness, permanent disability, or death.”
- The modified language states: “Even with the mitigation steps taken by Penn State and my compliance with this Compact, I acknowledge that Penn State cannot prevent the risks of exposure to COVID-19 that may result from attending Penn State or participating in Penn State activities.”
To be clear, students returning to any of our campuses must acknowledge the Compact as a condition of a return to learning on campus. We feel it is important that students and families understand there is COVID-19 risk, everywhere in our daily lives, and to reinforce the importance of following the public health guidelines established by the state and public health experts for the return to campus learning. Penn State has committed to meeting and exceeding the governor’s public health requirements, and has provided educational offerings that include remote-only learning options for students and families, as part of our efforts to be flexible in meeting their needs and concerns. Nevertheless, we hope this clarification addresses the concerns that were raised to us. To reiterate: This is not a waiver and was not intended to be. It is an acknowledgement.
Additionally, while all students are required to acknowledge that they have read the Compact, the contents of the Compact do not apply to those students who are learning in a fully remote manner and will not be on any of our campuses or in the surrounding communities. Of course, we encourage all individuals to follow the guidance of public health experts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and protect themselves and those around them wherever they may be.