Schools must be very careful when they plan activities for students. Whether it’s a study tour, sports activity or even simply using the student’s personal information for a media event, it is of utmost importance that the school first gets the necessary consent forms signed from the parents to avoid any confusion later.
Consent (or permission) forms are an important way to ensure clear communication and dialogue between students, their parents and school teachers and administrators. They need detailed information about the activity in concern as well as clear reasons for the consent being sought e.g. risk of injury or risk that personal information such as a photo may be accessible on the Internet. A well-designed consent form and a systematic, formal process for obtaining that consent protects schools from needless legal risks and exposure, and saves everyone time and unnecessary headaches.
What’s on a Consent Form
Consent forms contain important information including:
- Parents’ name and contact information.
- Student ID, name, grade and other details.
- A clear description of the consent being sought.
- A way to acknowledge that the information has been received.
- Parental signature and date.
Challenges with Consent Forms
As we saw above, consent forms are crucial. It seems simple enough but schools face many challenges securing the necessary permissions.
- The school needs to send these forms to parents / guardians and ensure they receive it. But, that’s easier said then done. How often have our kids forgotten to give us forms or paperwork? Kids forget about permission slips, lose paperwork, spill food or water on paper forms, accidentally rip them up etc. Ensuring that the request for consent reaches the parent in the first place is important.
- Another challenge is ensuring that parents accurately fill in these forms and sign them. Parents forget information, forget to sign or make mistakes. That leads to tedious, manual checking and unnecessary rounds of back-and-forth. It wastes teacher time and parent time and, in the worst case, could cause students to miss important activities.
- Finally, storing and maintaining paper consent forms is another arduous and expensive task for schools. Paper costs money (the average school could use 28,000,000 sheets of paper each year) and it’s bad for the environment.
Electronic forms solve many of these problems
Digital (paperless) consent forms are a simple, affordable and practical solution. In fact, a typical school might use digital forms and processes in many areas – administrative tasks like absence records, and new hire onboarding as well as things like emergency contact forms.
For consent forms, schools can email electronic versions to parents or provide access from a secure portal. This ensures that parents receive forms and can complete and sign them anywhere and on any device. Mandatory fields and form validations guarantee that parents fill in forms correctly. A simple button click submits the completed form to the school.
In addition, electronic forms save data digitally. It can be in a SQL database, some other internal business system or, your forms software probably saves the data in a repository. Since the data is digital, it’s easy to access and analyze e.g. for the Field Trip to the Wadsworth Atheneum, list the students who did not obtain consent from Mrs. Hunt’s class. It’s much easier to sort and extract this type of information from electronic data instead of paper forms in a filing cabinet.
Let’s take a look at a few example consent forms commonly used in K-12 schools and Universities.
Permission form to use Google Apps
Schools and universities are increasingly using a wide variety of digital technologies for teaching and learning. One of the most common applications is Google Apps for Education – a suite that provides email, collaborative documents etc.
Several Federal regulations such as Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and others govern technology use in schools. It’s important for schools to obtain parental consent before providing access to students.
In addition to saving time that would be wasted manually e-mailing these forms around, tracking them etc. the electronic version below is much easier to use. Parents can access it on any device, sign without printing and the system automatically uploads the signed form to Google Drive.
Multi-language General Consent form
This is another common K-12 consent form. Students may be photographed, videotaped and interviewed when participating in various activities at school. These pictures or videos could appear in school magazines, websites, reports or other publications and media. Additionally, the school may wish to include student information in their school or class directories. Given privacy legislation, any disclosures of this kind require explicit consent from a parent or guardian.
Another situation that almost always requires explicit consent is for health screenings (e.g. vision, hearing, or dental). State regulations often mandate health screenings. Once again, these regulations require that a parent or guardian sign a permission form. The school must store the form somewhere and reproduce it on demand.
Timely consent is also extra-important in some cases e.g. when the screening or media-related event is scheduled for a specific date. A delayed consent form can cause ripple effects e.g. a student missing out on an overseas performance tour because she doesn’t have a health screening form due to a missing consent. As before, digital consent forms ensure timely turnaround e.g. they can have automated reminders built-in so parents are notified multiple times until they complete the form.
Multiple languages make the consent form easier to fill
In our modern world, K-12 school districts, particularly those in larger cities, have to consider the needs of parents whose native language is not English. Ultimately, you don’t want students missing out on educational activities because parents could not understand what permission was being sought. As a result, many schools are providing important documents including consent forms, emergency contact information etc. in multiple languages.
With frevvo, you can easily create forms in multiple languages. They will also automatically render in the appropriate language based on the browser’s settings.
Consent Form for sports participation
Sports, by their very nature, are active. There’s always the possibility that a student could sustain an injury, even a severe injury. Medical conditions could prevent students from participating in certain activities and it’s also important that coaches and trainers know any medical history such as allergies so that they can administer emergency treatment if required e.g. at an away game.
Prior to participation it is very important for parents to explicitly understand and acknowledge the risk in allowing their students to participate in sporting activities and explicitly grant permission for things like coaches administering emergency care.
As before, digital forms ensure that parents read all the disclaimers and can sign digitally without printing.
Health Consent Form
Health emergencies don’t just happen while playing sports. Schools often have to administer treatment to students for minor symptoms like headaches, fever, pain etc. To protect themselves and avoid legal issues, schools should obtain consent from parents/guardians before they can administer health services like providing ibuprofen or acetaminophen or letting the school nurse or doctor examine and treat the student.
As before, digital forms are easy to use, signed electronically and eliminate errors and omissions. In addition, since the data is digital, it’s easy to retrieve at any time.
Information Release Withholding Form
Under Federal and State law, school districts may share student directory information with authorized individuals, organizations and/or officials. In most states, schools clearly identify what actual information is being released and which entities might receive it. However, most states also allow parents of minor students as well as adult students to limit the release of their information or to prohibit it altogether. Typically, this means filling out, signing and submitting a form every year.
Online consent forms are perfect for this scenario. Not only are they easy to submit but the system can also remind parents and students of the need to submit a withholding request each year.
Consent forms are ubiquitous in schools and colleges. It’s tedious, expensive and inefficient to rely on paper. Electronic versions have extensive advantages:
- Digital forms are much easier to use and can be completed by students, parents or guardians at any time from anywhere and using any device.
- They practically eliminate errors and omissions resulting in reduced back-and-forth. That saves time for busy parents and teachers.
- With automation and reminders, it’s easier to ensure that the proper consent has been obtained well in advance. As a result, students are less likely to miss out on educational activities.
- Most important, since teachers and students save time by not having to chase down paperwork, they can spend more time on what’s important – education.
The good news is that digitizing your consent forms is easy with modern, visual school workflow software like frevvo. Anyone can drag-and-drop to create forms, route them to people and apply dynamic behavior. Check out the short 6-minute video below to learn more.
A fully, functional 30-day trial is available anytime. Click the button below, sign up now and get started on your journey to a paperless school district.