What if a student has an accident as she drives to her community-based learning work? What if a student slips and hurts herself on a snowy sidewalk as she walks to the elementary school where she has her placement? What if--God forbid!--a crime occurs around a student in transit or on site? What if a student behaves unethically or illegally?
These are the nightmare scenarios of anyone who does community-based learning.
When I began doing Spanish community-based learning in 2004, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement provided a group of us with support. In addition to seed money, they organized meetings so that we could brainstorm and trouble-shoot together.
One issue that came up over and over again was liability. But there was no clear campus policy to guide us.
Now, Asst. Dean Barbara Hancin Bhatt in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has directed me to their website for "Information & Protocols for Off-Campus Programs." There are explanations and forms to help community-based learning instructors do due-diligence in their planning and as Dean Hancin Bhatt says, "a release form can get students to acknowledge their responsibilities to the program and to you."
If your own institution does not have clear policies in place for liability issues and community-based learning, perhaps this information can help you begin a conversation with university administrators.