Risk Management in Service Learning and Community Engagement at California State University, Los Angeles: An Overview and FAQs
Because it is committed to the goal of community engagement and the pedagogy of service learning, the CSU has established a comprehensive approach to ensuring the safety and protection of students and faculty involved in these activities. The CSU has compiled its recommendations in its Manual of Best Practices for Managing Risk in Service Learning (http://www.calstate.edu/cce/documents/Final_draft.pdf). The Office of Community Engagement at CSULA is committed to working closely with the Offices of Contracts and Procurements and Risk Management to help faculty understand these guidelines and create a safe learning environment on and off campus. While these FAQ’s provide a brief overview of the basic policies, we also recommend that faculty involved in service learning familiarize themselves with the best practices described in the manual and meet with our Offices to discuss their particular assignment.
I’d like to send my students to a particular agency. What do I need to do? (return to questions)
Contact the Office of Community Engagement to find out if the agency has a current “Service Learning Agreement” on file with the Office of Procurements at Cal State L.A. If not, we can work with the agency to create one. Please note that these agreements often take some time to put in place. Instructors who are interested in setting up a new placement should contact our office well in advance of the first day of class, preferably at least five weeks before the beginning of the quarter. Visit the proposed partner’s site to identify any site-specific safety concerns, and document this assessment.
What is a “Service Learning Agreement” and why is it important? (return to questions)
The “Service Learning Agreement” is a contract between the university and the agency. Click here to see the template for the agreement. (For future reference, the template can also be found on our “forms” page.) This agreement identifies the roles and responsibilities of each. It also details about who will provide coverage for students in case they are injured while performing their service. The “Service Learning Agreement” is important not only because it protects faculty, students, and community partners, but also because it provides an opportunity for various parties to communicate their respective assumptions about the nature of the activity.
Is there a liability policy that covers students involved in service learning? (return to questions)
Yes. The Student Academic Field Experience for Credit Liability Insurance Program (SAFECLIP) provides “general liability coverage for students performing community service or volunteer work for academic credit” (http://www.calstate.edu/eo/EO-1012.pdf). (Click here for more information on SAFECLIP at CSULA.) At Cal State L.A., students do not need to pay any additional fees for this coverage or sign any forms other than the “Learning Agreement” outlined below. Student health coverage is not a part of the general liability coverage noted above, therefore injuries incurred are dealt with by the student or community partner, depending on the specifics in the service learning agreement.
Do my students need to sign forms? (return to questions)
Yes, the CSU has created a student “Learning Plan.” Click here to see the template for this plan. (For future reference, the template can also be found on our “forms” page.) The purpose of this plan is twofold. First, it explains the connection between the service activity and the learning outcomes of the course. Second, it identifies the risks associated with the activity. By signing this form, students acknowledge that they understand the above and agree to participate.
If I would like copies of the “Learning Plans” to distribute to my class, where can I get them? (return to questions)
Click here to download the learning plan template. There is also a link to the plan on the “forms” page. You may email this link directly to your students. Or, if you notify our office a few weeks in advance, we’ll be happy to make photocopies you can distribute during the first week of class.
I have given my students copies of the “Learning Plans.” Now what? (return to questions)
We recommend that faculty spend class time with students discussing the “Learning Plan.” The “Learning Plan” is not just a risk management form, it is a valuable learning opportunity. By reviewing each page and ensuring that students understand the learning outcomes of the course, the nature of the activity, and the risks involved, faculty can help students prepare for a safe and academically rewarding experience.
Instructors can simplify the process by reminding students to print clearly in ink, sign and date where specified, and initial each page. If a community partner/site supervisor gives a presentation to the class during the early weeks of class, the site supervisor can sign and date the forms during class. If the site supervisor is not available during class, the instructor should ask the students to have the site supervisor sign the form the first time they visit the agency. Once the site supervisor has signed the form, students should return the form to the faculty member, who will sign where specified. Instructors should verify that the forms are properly completed, initialed, signed, and dated by the student and site supervisor before signing. The Office of Community Engagement will make arrangements to collect the completed forms from faculty. Forms should be collected before the student begins service.
What else should I know? (return to questions)
Again, instructors are advised to see the CSU Manual on Best Practices on Service Learning. It includes the following checklist of do’s and dont’s:
DO provide campus- and community-based organization orientations to familiarize students with policies, procedures and risks involved in the specific service activities they will be providing and with the populations they serve. (See Orientation Checklist, pages 33-34.)
DO discuss Learning Plans with students so they fully understand their responsibilities, learning objectives and service objectives, and are informed of the risks associated with their service learning placements. Students should sign the Learning Plan, and have their site supervisor(s) and faculty member review and sign it as well. (See Learning Plan, pages 35-38.)
DO build a working relationship with your risk manager and contracts and procurement officer.
DO be aware that special insurance policies for professional coverage are available for specific students and programs (i.e. nursing, social work).
DO conduct site reviews before, during and after a service-learning course is offered.
DO understand that faculty members can be individually named in lawsuits and should play an active role in ensuring safe and positive service-learning experiences for their students.
DO know that faculty members will be indemnified and protected by the university in the case of a lawsuit, so long as the faculty member was acting within the scope of his or her work, and students are only sent to sites where a Service Learning Agreement has been executed.
DO offer alternative placements and/or opportunities for students in service-learning courses to avoid potential risks.
DO meet the special safety needs of any student. See the CSU manual for more information.