Venable partner Caryn Pass was interviewed in the July 6, 2016 issue of Net Assets on the due diligence schools need to provide for their international programs. With terrorist attacks abroad and the threat of the Zika virus, independent schools must weigh a variety of factors to help them navigate the risks and mitigate financial liabilities associated with their international programs.
"Schools are wise to establish protocols and standard procedures, and memorialize these guidelines in a policy manual," said Pass. "The safety and security of students is a school's primary responsibility. Proactively setting up procedures and systems in advance of a trip will place the school in a better position to create a safe experience for the traveling student and assist in a defense," if needed. She advised schools to require that parents read and sign various forms and releases establishing the terms and conditions of travel.
Pass cited a 2007 incident with a student from the Hotchkiss School who suffered brain damage from a tick-borne form of encephalitis while on a trip to China. The student’s parents sued the school claiming they did not take proper precautions and were award over $40 million in damages which the school is appealing. "Hotchkiss is a wise and thoughtful school and had in place practices to protect its students," she said. "The Hotchkiss community suffered a terrible tragedy. The reality is, there but for the grace of God goes any school."
Despite all the precautions parents, students, and schools can take, Pass cautioned that "there is no such thing as zero risk. It is all about risk assessment. Is it the type of risk that requires a belt? A belt and suspenders? Or a belt, suspenders and safety-pin your pants to the bottom of your shirt? Mistakes are made when people panic. Advance preparation benefits everyone and reduces liability."