As the nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities across the country are preparing for the start of the academic year and determining how best to accommodate the needs of their students, parents, and staff. Whether your institution has decided to fully reopen campus, provide hybrid courses, or change the length of the semester, you may have some questions about the upcoming academic term.
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What should I do if my financial situation has changed due to COVID-19?
If you are a student or parent who has suffered a loss of income, or you rely on in-person work-study opportunities to pay for tuition, you may find yourself in need of additional financial assistance. While you may have already submitted your financial aid forms for the year, it is recommended that you reach out to your admissions or financial aid office to see if there are any adjustments or additional merit scholarships available. If your school received funding through the CARES Act, you may be eligible for an emergency grant designed specifically to aid students whose lives have been disrupted by COVID-19. You might also be eligible for scholarships offered by third parties. There are a number of resources available online to help you find those opportunities.
If your school has decided to raise tuition or they refuse to offer a refund, you might be considering legal action. Should you choose to go that route, talk to a lawyer to determine the best path forward.
How can I protect myself when going back to campus?
If you are a student or staff member who plans to return to campus in person, you may be increasing your likelihood of COVID-19 exposure. To that end, it can be helpful to put a healthcare plan in place prior to the beginning of the school term. Whether you are single or married, Estate Planning documents are available to help protect you and your loved ones. From establishing a Living Will to maintaining an up-to-date Last Will and Testament, you may find some comfort in having a full estate plan. If you have minor children or elderly dependents, you may also need to find someone to look after them. Use a Child Care Contract or an Elder Care Authorization Form to provide specific authority and power to a caretaker. Keep in mind that as a parent of an adult child, you will need to be granted Healthcare Power of Attorney in order to access your child’s medical records or make decisions if they are incapacitated.
As a student living on- or off-campus, your housing situation may involve roommates. While you may not be privy to your roommates’ recent travel or medical history, you may want to make an extra effort to ensure that your private and shared living spaces are cleaned and disinfected regularly. Aside from any recommended health and safety precautions advised by the Centers for Disease Control, you’ll also want to remain legally protected. Make sure that all of your roommates are listed in your Lease Agreement, so that you are all equally responsible for the rent and for any property damage. This will be especially important in the event that your campus closes again. Although it may not be required by your landlord, renters insurance can also be a good investment to help protect your belongings.
What should I do if I need to break my lease?
If you will be distance-learning for the fall and have rented a living space that you no longer plan to use, you may be looking for ways to get out of it. As a first step, check your lease for any policies around early termination and/or subletting. If you are unsure, a landlord-tenant lawyer can help you interpret the terms. If your landlord is accustomed to renting to college students, they may already allow subletting or early termination, but it is best to ask directly. In some states, you need to have written consent to sublet, so it is important not to make assumptions. If your landlord does allow you to sublet, make sure to document the terms of your arrangement in a Sublease Agreement.
Stay up-to-date on reopening plans
As we get closer to the first day of classes, it will be important to stay up-to-date on all official communications. If your school has not yet outlined a plan for personal protective equipment (PPE), you may wish to contact your administrators to determine if you will be individually responsible for providing your own masks and/or gloves, or whether those things will be provided for you. If you have questions about your rights as a student or employee, ask a lawyer.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.