St. Francis Xavier University's attempt to abdicate legal liability for protecting returning students from COVID-19 is getting a harsh response.
“The undersigned at St. F.X., students, alumni, faculty, staff and community members who are appalled and disappointed by the waiver you sent to St. F.X. students on July 10, as well as by the broader St. F.X. response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” reads an open letter signed by 349 students and staff and sent to St. F.X. president Andrew Hakin on Monday.
“The terms laid out in this waiver are unconscionable and unacceptable.”
On Friday, students registered to attend St. F.X. this fall received a waiver they will be required to sign before showing up on campus.
“… I am aware that the COVID-19 risks at St. F.X. and during the St. F.X. activities are higher than in other locations or activities due to students travelling from many areas to St F.X., the density of the student population living and interacting in close proximity and other factors, both known and unknown,” reads the waiver.
“I understand that I may be infected by COVID-19 as the result of negligence on the part of (St. F.X.) or other persons, including other students or visitors. I understand that negligence includes failure on the part of (St. F.X.) to take reasonable steps to safeguard or protect me from Covid-19 risks while I am at St. F.X. or participating in St. F.X. activities.”
The waiver absolves St. F.X.’s board of governors from any liability for “loss, damage, illness, sickness, expense or injury including death” suffered by a student or their family as a result of them attending the school.
The letter includes an acknowledgment that the undergraduate school’s decision to invite students back this fall increases the risk of COVID-19 being brought to Antigonish. About 40 per cent of St F.X. students came from outside Atlantic Canada last year.
Facing a growing backlash to the waiver, the school’s president sent a letter to members of the school community on Sunday.
“To be clear, the waiver, by no means, absolves the university of doing everything it can to meet the standards expected by public health,” wrote Hakin.
“The safety of our students, faculty and staff, as well as the wider community remains our top priority as we prepare for September.”
Last month, staff got a first look at St. F.X.’s plans to reorder its campus in the fall.
Its large scale reordering of student life will include:
Only single rooms in dorms.
- Students will be expected to complete a self screening before leaving their rooms and report any symptoms to 811 and school staff.
- Mandatory non-medical mask use on campus and in classrooms.
- Social distancing across the campus, including meal hall where capacity will be cut by half.
- Common spaces will be cleaned daily and high contact areas like doors and washrooms twice daily.
Students won’t face mandatory COVID-19 testing when they arrive from outside the province but will have to follow whatever isolation protocols are in place at the time.
Hakin explained in his email that the school has been advised that insurance companies won’t offer COVID-19 related coverage past the end of this year, making the waiver necessary for the school to reopen.
“COVID-19 waivers like this one are also becoming an increasing requirement in other everyday-life activities, such as a visit to the dentist, summer camp/recreation participation, etc., due to the pandemic,” wrote Hakin.
Saint Mary’s and Cape Breton University have cancelled in-person classes for the fall semester. Dalhousie will only allow back on campus those enrolled in professional programs whose graduates require in-person instruction for certification.
Acadia is the only other university in Nova Scotia that also intends to open its doors.
It hasn’t required its students to sign a waiver absolving the school of liability.
The open letter sent to Hakin on Monday demanded the school retract the waiver, apologize, provide a plan to protect immuno-compromised students, expand online course offerings, guarantee students who defer for this year aren’t penalized and offer up any guidance received that led to the waiver.
If the school doesn’t comply, the letter threatens that students will cancel their attendance for the fall semester, demand a reimbursement for any credit held by the school and encourage alumni to halt donations.
Third year St. F.X. student Alexandra Daly said Monday that with only about a quarter of the school’s courses being offered fully online, the school is essentially forcing students to sign the waiver.
“Students are a vulnerable population,” said Daly.
“They spend a lot of money to go to school and more often than not they have to get student loans. Its very hard for students to decide not to attend and adjust their life plans.”
Sarah Elliott, president of St. F.X.’s student union, said she has heard many concerns from many students and met with the school’s administration Monday to discuss the issue. More meetings are expected to take place throughout this week.
She said many students felt the document is one sided and that through her discussions with the university, expressed those concerns. As a result, she said the university, with input from students, will be creating an memorandum of understanding that will outline responsibilities for all parties.
Most students are looking forward to getting back to classes, Elliott said, but many have legitimate concerns.
“We want to make sure that students know that they’re supported no matter what the model looks like,” she said.