Penn State under fire for asking students to sign COVID-19 agreement

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Friday, August 14, 2020
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At Penn State, the university was already forced to do an about-face after coming under fire for asking students to sign what amounted to a liability waiver.

STATE COLLEGE, Penn. -- Penn State is facing backlash after asking its nearly 100,000 students to sign what critics are calling a liability agreement as the university prepares for its fall semester during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I assume any and all risk of exposure to COVID-19 that may result from attending Penn State, and I acknowledge that exposure or infection may result in personal injury, illness, permanent disability or death," the document read, in part.

The agreement, titled, "The Penn State COVID-19 Compact," warned that students may face disciplinary action if they do not follow public safety measures, like participating in contact tracing, mask-wearing and social distancing.

It follows with a statement that students "must acknowledge that [they] understand what it says," which includes accepting the risk of on-campus exposure.

RELATED | Big Ten and Pac-12 pull plug on fall football amid pandemic

Postponing the season is already on the table for some conferences, but there will be others who plan to play this season amid the pandemic.

Penn State told ABC News the document was only meant to acknowledge the school's guidelines and has since changed the language.

"It is not a legal agreement and was never intended as such," the school told ABC News.

The university is preparing for students' arrivals with personal protective equipment, including 1.5 million surgical masks and 33,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.

As they struggle to salvage some semblance of a campus experience this fall, U.S. colleges are requiring promises from students to help contain the coronavirus -- no keg parties, no long road trips and no outside guests on campus.

Administrators warn that failure to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid mass gatherings could bring serious consequences, including getting booted from school.

Critics question whether it's realistic to demand that college students not act like typical college students. But the push illustrates the high stakes for universities planning to welcome at least some students back. Wide-scale COVID-19 testing, quarantines and plexiglass barriers in classrooms won't work if too many students misbehave.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.