Penn State Softens Risk Language of Student COVID-19 Compact, Says, 'This Is Not a Waiver'

Mark Wogenrich

Penn State has changed its "COVID-19 Compact" students must sign before returning to campus, softening language about assuming risk of exposure to the virus.

Penn State on Thursday released an updated version of the compact, which about 64,000 students have signed, according to the university. Here is the significant change:

Former text

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.

Updated text

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.

In a statement Thursday, Penn State said that some people misinterpreted the initial compact as a waiver of students' rights, "which was neither the case, nor the intent." Penn State said that the compact requires students to acknowledge that they will comply with the university's expectations regarding mask-wearing, distancing and other mitigation protocols.

Students returning to Penn State campuses beginning Aug. 24 still are required to sign the compact. Separately, the NCAA recently banned member schools from requiring athletes to sign COVID-19 waivers in order to participate in sports.

"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," the university statement said. "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 acknowledgment."

Penn State officials have made the compact part of their return-to-campus protocols since July. But some Penn State students and staff have questioned the compact's language regarding risk assumption.

Penn State also has begun a social-media campaign termed "Mask Up or Pack Up" to deliver the message that masks are required in campus buildings. Penn State officials have said that students face disciplinary action if they do not wear masks. The university has bought 2 million masks for student and staff use.

"We’re willing to say to a student they’re not welcome to stay on our campuses [if they don't wear a mask]," Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs, said during a recent online town hall. "A summary suspension might be put into play. But we’re hoping that kind of enforcement is not what’s necessary, and we know in the end that enforcement really isn’t what’s going to make this work. What will make it work is for each and every one of us to commit to doing the right thing."

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