Community Engagement

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Risk Management

Guiding Principles to Reduce Risk in Service Learning

Service learning links community service experiences with course content to create a positive, safe and valuable out-of-classroom learning experience. For a successful program, faculty, students, college staff, and community partners must work together as a team to make the most of the service learning experience and manage the unique risks that exist for each assignment.

Academic and student preparation with a Student Service Learning Plan & Agreement, detailing the service learning assignment in the course syllabus, as well as In-Class and Learning Site Orientations will greatly enhance the results and continue to make the service learning experience meaningful.

Insurance for Service Learning Students

SAFECLIP provides General and Professional Liability coverage for students enrolled in service learning course sections for which they receive academic credit. In essence, the program provides indemnity including legal defense cost for students, faculty, campus and host institution (community partner) if there is a claim or lawsuit involving injury to others or damage to property in connection with service learning and other academic fieldwork experiences.

Similarly, SPLIP provides General and Professional Liability coverage as well as Educator's Errors & Omissions Liability coverage for students enrolled in Nursing, Allied Health, Social Work or Education credential programs of the CSU who also perform service learning for academic credit. 

Background Checks

Background checks (which may include fingerprinting) are often required for service - learning students who come into contact with protected classes of people, such as children, persons with disabilities, and persons living in assisted living facilities. The decision of a learning site to require a background check is solely up to the learning site's interpretation of the laws or regulations that govern it. Learning sites are solely responsible for requesting background checks for service - learning students pl aced at their sites. The university plays no role in this decision and only needs to know which learning sites require background checks.

Federal and state laws and regulations governing background checks are very strict regarding the privacy of the person being reviewed. Most allow only the entity requesting the background check to have access to the results. Consequently, because the unive rsity is not the requesting agency, no faculty or staff member will ever be given the specific results of a student's background check. Learning sites are under strict guidelines to keep all background check information private, and can have their licenses revoked if they violate this right of privacy. This means that if a student takes two separate service - learning courses, each requiring a background check, the student needs to submit to two background checks so that the results can be sent to two separat e locations. This is true even if the service - learning courses are in the same semester.

Although it is the sole responsibility of the learning site to determine whether a background check is necessary, that does not mean that the learning site is always responsible for paying for the process. If the learning site cannot cover the cost of the background check, then it is the student's responsibility. If the student has to pay for the background check, that information should be made clear to the student at the beginning of the course and written into the syllabus.

Faculty

Faculty interested in creating a new service learning course or working with a new commmunity organization (one that does not have a Service Learning Campus-Community Partnership Agreement with CSUN) are strongly encouraged to work with the offices of Community Engagement and Risk Management. Campus risk managers can help assess the risk(s) involved with any service learning project and decide how to conduct any partnership with the least amount of risk exposure. The job of risk managers is not to prohibit educational experiences that may seem "too risky," but rather to find ways to reduce the amount of risk and liability exposure, so that each service learning opportunity is as safe, healthful, and fulfilling; and that all parties are fully informed of their responsibilities in mitigating risks.

Faculty members and learning site supervisors should work together to ensure that students are aware of their learning opportunities, the nature of their service learning placement, their specific service opportunities and goals, and the risks that are associated with the placement.

Tools to Develop A Comprehensive Risk Management Plan for Service Learning Courses

Listing of Approved Community Partners for Service Learning

The office of Community Engagement works with local not-for-profit organizations in establishing the foundations for academic collaboration. Community organizations may submit unsolicited requests to partner with the University, often seeking student or faculty expertise in a particular area; or faculty may have already developed a relationship with the agency and contact Community Engagement to initiate the paperwork required to become an approved University partner. All service learning assignments must occur at an approved University partner site.

Service Learning Project Planning Checklist (pdf)

A critical component of developing a service learning assignment is the completion of a Service Learning Project Planning Checklist. Recognizing that each service learning assignment is uniquely designed to fulfill course-specific learning outcomes; we also acknowledge that the level of risk for these assignments may vary even if the assignments occur at the same learning site. Because of this variance of risk, faculty should have a conversation with the learning site supervisor(s), utilizing the Service Learning Project Planning Checklist as a guide, to determine the potential risk(s) to students involved in the service learning assignment. Once the Project Planning Checklist is completed, faculty should arrange a meeting with the office of Community Engagement to review the plan and discuss potential risks.

This form is to be completed by faculty designing a service learning assignment and must submitted to the office of Community Engagement at least one (1) month prior to the start-date of the semester in which the service learning project will occur.

Recommendations for Incorporating Service Learning into the Course Syllabus (pdf)

Service learning assignments are to be treated as other course assignments and should be explicitly detailed in course syllabi to avoid any misunderstanding or miscommunication of the assignment requirements, learning objectives, or service learning community partner(s).

In-Class Orientation Checklist (pdf)

Faculty must provide students with an in-class orientation to the service learning assignment; the In-Class Orientation Checklist will help you prepare service learning students for their community experiences. The in-class orientation should provide students with a clear understanding of the work they will be doing, the risks associated with that work, and how they should conduct themselves when working in the community as part of a learning assignment. If you have completed a Service Learning Project Planning Checklist much of the information for the in-class orientation has already been collected and this can be easily incorporated as an orientation tool.

Learning Site Orientation Checklist (pdf)

Learning Site Supervisors must also provide students with an orientation to the learning site. The Learning Site Orientation Checklist is a resource tool for the learning site supervisor and should be used with the Service Learning Project Planning Checklist to develop a thorough Learning Site orientation for service learning students. The learning site orientation should provide students with a clear understanding of the work they will be doing, the risks associated with that work, and how they should conduct themselves when they are working in the community as part of a class assignment. This is the simplest, most efficient way for students to become aware of emergency policies, accident procedures, and the rules and regulations of the site. 

Students

Students engaged in a service learning assignment are also responsible for mitigating potential risks involved with their service learning assignment. The Student Service Learning Plan & Agreement contains "Participation Guidelines" which outline appropriate behavior expectations for service learning students while at the learning site. Students are required to sign the "participation guidelines," which serves as an informed consent, demonstrating their awareness of the potential risks and behavior expectations at the learning site.

The Student Timesheet (pdf) also serves a risk management function by keeping a record of when students were providing service at the site. If an incident occurs at the site, and the university needs to know if a specific student was acutlly working at the site at that time, this can provide a quick cross-check to the learning site's sign-in sheet.

Student Service Learning Plan & Agreement

The Student Service Learning Plan & Agreement has been developed as an online form and must be completed by all students engaged in a service learning project prior to their first day at the learning site. Students who participate in a service learning assignment without submitting a Student Service Learning Plan & Agreement are not covered under the SAFECLIP campus insurance program. Part one (1) includes areas for students to provide information about themselves, emergency contact information, identify their community learning site and site supervisor, detail course information including articulating their learning and service objectives, and define the beginning and ending dates of their service learning assignment. Part two (2) defines the participation guidelines for students engaged in a service learning assignment and are important in order to provide a positive learning experience. The guidelines acts as the student's acknowledgement of their responsibilities in completing their service learning paperwork, understanding of the potential risks associated with the service learning assignment, as well as the professional standards expected of them while at the learning site. The Student Service Learning Plan & Agreement also informs students that they are personally responsible for paying any costs related to the treatment of any injury or illness they may suffer while at the learning site. For this reason, students are encouraged to have health insurance.       

Community Organizations

Community organizations must have a completed and signed Service Learning Campus-Community Partnership Agreement on file with the office of Community Engagement before any students are assigned to the organization for a service learning assignment. Community organizations that enter into partnerships with the University for service learning projects are responsible for working with the office of Community Engagement, faculty, and students to mitigate potential risks at the learning site.

Learning Site Supervisors should work with faculty to ensure that students are aware of their learning opportunities, the nature of their service learning placement, their specific service opportunities and goals, and the risks that are associated with the placement; a good tool for this is the Service Learning Project Planning Checklist (pdf).

Request to Initiate Campus-Community Partnership (on-line form)

Community organizations interested in partnering with the University for service learning must complete and submit a Request to Initiate Campus-Community Partnership form which serves as an initial repository of information about the potential learning site. Agency's responses will help the office of Community Engagement determine if an organization is an appropriate placement for service learning students, help match courses with the organization, and also provide information regarding when students are needed, student requirements, and liability coverage.

Service Learning Project Planning Checklist (pdf)

A critical component of developing a service learning project is the completion of a Service Learning Project Planning Checklist. Recognizing that each service learning assignment is uniquely designed to fulfill course-specific learning outcomes; we also acknowledge that the level of risk for these assignments may vary even if the assignments occur at the same community organization. Because of this variance of risk, faculty should have a converstion with the learning site supervisor(s), utilizing the Service Learning Project Planning Checklist as a guide, to determine the potential risk(s) to students involved in the service learning assignment. Once the project planning checklist is completed, faculty should arrange a meeting with the office of Community Engagment to review the plan and discuss potential risks.

This form is to be completed by faculty designing a service learning assignment and must submitted to the office of Community Engagement at least one (1) month prior to the start-date of the semester in which the service learning project will occur.

Learning Site Orientation Checklist (pdf)

Learning Site Supervisors must provide students with an orientation to the learning site. The Learning Site Orientation Checklist is a resource tool for the learning site supervisor and should be used with the Service Learning Project Planning Checklist to develop a thorough on-site orientation for service learning students. The learning site orientation should provide students with a clear understanding of the work they will be doing, the risks associated with that work, and how they should conduct themselves when they are working in the community as part of a class assignment. This is the simplest, most efficient way for students to become aware of emergency policies, accident procedures, and the rules and regulations of the site.