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Work on judgment, not policy, about field trips

A Times Editorial
Published February 21, 2007


As it prepares to refine the district's policy for school-sponsored field trips, the Hernando County School Board can steer clear of a protracted debate and take a shortcut to solving the problem: Simply require teachers and administrators to adhere to the existing policy, which clearly spells what constitutes an educational field trip.

It's right there on Page 116 (Section 4.43) of the district's policy manual, appropriately under the heading of Curriculum and Instruction:

"Any trip which is directly related to a unit of instruction being studied by a particular group of students shall be considered an educational field trip. A field trip will be approved only when related to the instructional program of the school. ... A trip which is not directly related to the instructional program but which is related to a school-sponsored or connected activity shall be considered an extracurricular trip."

The policy also states that it is the responsibility of teachers and principals to assess the benefit to students before seeking approval from the superintendent or School Board.

If that policy had been followed in December by Nature Coast Technical High School principal Tizzy Schoelles, who pretended that a ski trip to Colorado would improve students' geography and math skills, the board might have avoided this discussion. Certainly, they have more important issues to address.

But now that they are forced into it, board members can make the best use of their time by:

-Firmly stating the obvious, which is that teachers and principals are the gatekeepers on proposals for away-from-school activities, and it is their responsibility to determine the educational component before forwarding it to the superintendent for approval. Any teacher or principal who cannot differentiate between an educational trip and an extracurricular recreational trip probably shouldn't be in the classroom.

And, if an unjustifiable proposal does make it to the superintendent's office, it should be denied, not passed on to the board with a what-have-we-got-to-lose attitude.

-Clarifying the policy so that board approval is obtained before students or teachers solicit donations or book transportation or accommodations. It would be unfair to students who worked hard to reach a goal to have the board deny their trip at the last minute. It also is misleading to ask parents and others to foot the bills for trips that may or may not take place.

Board members also may want to discuss the topics of affordability and eligibility as they relate to the field trip policy. Should all students be eligible for an authorized junket? If it is beneficial to one group, shouldn't the same opportunity be available to others? And, if so, who should pay if parents can't afford it?

There is nothing wrong with rewarding deserving students with field trips that are all about fun. In fact, they are great incentives and promote camaraderie. But it is important that youngsters and their parents know the difference between fun-runs and legitimate, sanctioned learning opportunities.

That is the message the board needs to reiterate to the superintendent and her staff.

[Last modified February 20, 2007, 20:29:38]

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