In practically every school in the US, school activities and permission slips go together like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a lunchbox. They come in variety of forms and with a lot of different language. As a general rule, though, when you sign it, you're agreeing not to hold the school responsible if your child gets hurt during the school activity.
What Are They?
Your child almost always needs your written permission to go on field trips. This is when she and her classmates plan to leave the school's grounds for part or all of the regular school day. A trip to a zoo or museum are good examples. A trip may involve an overnight stay in another city, too. A permission slip may also be required before your child can participate in after-school activities, especially sports.
The idea is simple: If your child is hurt during the school activity, the school wants to avoid being sued by you to pay for your child's injury and medical care.
Permission slips generally come in one of two ways:
- Blanket or general form
- Informed consent form
Both types usually explain the activity you're giving your child permission to do, as well as the date and time of the activity. Other than that, they often work very differently.
Blanket or general permission forms usually include a complete "waiver of liability." This is where you agree not to hold the school responsible for any injury to your child, no matter who or what caused the accident or injury. Even if the school, teacher, or staff member was negligent - meaning a teacher, for example, did something she wasn't supposed to do, or didn't do something she was supposed to do, and your child was hurt because of it.
For example, if your child was hurt at the zoo because she wasn't properly supervised by a teacher or chaperon (negligence), the school may not be liable for your child's injury if the permission slip you signed included a general waiver of liability.
We say the school may not be liable because general waivers of liability aren't liked by the courts in many states, and so the waiver may not be enforceable. Courts don't like these waivers because they ask the parents and the students to waive important legal rights and let schools avoid liability for preventable injuries.
Nonetheless, the vast majority of permission slips include a general liability waiver.
Informed consent permission slips are a bit different. Typically, they explain the school activity and any natural or inherent risks that go along with the activity. By signing it, you agree not to hold the school responsible if your child is injured because of an inherent risk of the activity. The school, however, remains liable if your child's injury was caused by the school's negligence.
For example, say your child's class is taking a field trip to a natural history museum. The permission slip explains that there are caves for the students to climb through and play in and the natural risks involved with climbing and playing in them. If you sign the slip and your child is hurt when:
- She falls while trying to climb into a cave, and she's properly supervised, the school likely can't be held responsible
- A teacher or chaperon wasn't in the area to make sure she and the other children were following the rules and using the caves safely and properly, the school may be liable for her injuries if she falls and is hurt
Of course, in both examples, the zoo or museum as businesses may be liable for your child's injury if they were negligent. For instance, if your child fell through a deteriorated and unsafe cave floor, the museum may be responsible for her injuries.
Longer, More Difficult Slips
It's not uncommon for permission slips to require:
- Your agreement to let the school to get emergency medical treatment for your child in case of an accident. Usually the form asks for the name and telephone of your child's doctor and any medical conditions or allergies your child has and any medication she's taking
- Notarization, where you have to prove you're your child's parent or legal guardian and sign your name under oath in front of a notary public. Although a school may require a notarized signature on any permission form, it's usually required when your child's field trip involves travel to another city, state, or foreign country and/or includes an overnight stay or longer
Take Action and Know What You're Signing
First, when it comes time for a field trip, take the time to explain or reinforce what you and your child have already talked about. Behave, follow your teacher's directions, and be safe. That's usually all it takes. Most of the time field trips go off without a hitch.
But you're busy. There's work, errands, dinner to cook, and the list goes on. It's easy to simply sign a permission slip without reading it. After all, you want your child to have fun with the rest of the class, right? Take the time and read the slip. If you don't like what you see, don't sign it.
It seems odd to say, "Call your attorney," but it's not so strange. Most schools use the same permission slip or form for every field trip or activity. So, the one you sign when your student's in first grade may the same when she's in the eighth grade. When you get one with a liability waiver, ask your attorney to look at it. She can tell you how the laws in your state treat permission slips and waivers of liability before anything happens.
If there is an accident and your child is hurt, call your attorney no matter kind of permission slip or waiver you signed. If your child has medical bills or is seriously injured, the person responsible should be - and very well could be - held accountable.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I just found out my child's class has been walking several blocks to the local public library each week. I was never asked for permission. Isn't the school breaking some sort of law?
- What might happen if a student forges a parent's name on a permission slip and the student is hurt on the field trip?
- If I write special directions or conditions on a permission slip (like "My child has permission to go to the zoo but not to the petting zoo area"), and my child gets hurt inside the petting zoo, is the school liable?