HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's minister of advanced education says changes will be made to a legal waiver students at St. Francis Xavier University were asked to sign before they could attend classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Labi Kousoulis said he talked earlier this week with student leaders who are negotiating with the university over the waiver and seeking to have its wording changed or replaced by a code of conduct.
The original waiver required students give up potential legal claims of "negligence, breach of contract, or breach of any statutory or other duty of care,'' even if the university fails to take reasonable steps to safeguard them from COVID-19 risks.
Kousoulis said he doesn't know what the wording will be going forward, but added the new waiver will not look like the old one.
"At this point, the waiver that was circulated, I'm quite certain will not be the waiver the students will be expected to sign," Kousoulis said following cabinet meetings Thursday.
On Monday afternoon, a letter of protest signed by about 350 students, staff, alumni and local residents was sent to university president Andy Hakin calling for the waiver's withdrawal and amendment.
A spokeswoman for the university confirmed Thursday the administration is in discussions with students and other stakeholders including parents and the board of governors, and will "review its decision to ensure it presents the best way forward."
The university in Antigonish, N.S., is offering a mix of online and classroom instruction this fall, with 72 per cent of undergraduate courses being offered in-person.
In June, the campus published a detailed plan it said ensured the university would meet public health protocols to prevent spread of the disease. Last week, however, the university emailed students the liability release waiver, asking them to sign before attending classes.
The letter of protest criticized the administration for what it said was a failure to consult students and a "disregard for student voice.'"
Hakin had distributed an email to the university community stating the waiver was part of the institution's approach to managing risk.
"The university has been advised by our insurers that insurance companies will not provide coverage related to the pandemic by the end of the year,'' Hakin wrote. "The waiver enables StFX to proceed with plans to have students back on campus, including having students in residence and in-person academic delivery.''
Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., and Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., are also providing in-person classes in the fall, but spokespeople for the universities told The Canadian Press they aren't currently requiring students sign legal waivers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2020.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press