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Critics cool to field trip policy
Some board members want to limit students' trips, based on grade.
By TOM MARSHALL
Published August 7, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Field trips have sparked some of the Hernando County School Board's most contentious meetings over the last year.
There was the high school ski club trip that left for Colorado the day after winter break, which the board approved, and the vetoed rafting trip to North Carolina.
But board members who opposed those trips found little comfort in a new policy scheduled for a board vote Aug. 14.
"I have concerns with the number of field trips and the purposes of those field trips that we've had," said School Board member Sandra Nicholson at a recent board workshop. "I really don't see those addressed in the new policy draft."
The new policy spells out the procedures teachers must follow to gain approval for both educational and extracurricular field trips, including details on bus procedures and parent permission.
But it doesn't change the fundamental policy of leaving most trips up to schools and the superintendent, with the exception of out-of-state trips, which the board must approve.
Nicholson and Dianne Bonfield said they wanted explicit policy language that would bar elementary students from trips outside the Tampa Bay area, and keep middle school students in state. Both said they would oppose the new policy.
"Washington, D.C., is a wonderful place," Bonfield said. "Go there on your parents' liability, not the School Board's."
Under the new policy, Nicholson said, it was possible older students could miss "four or five days of classes" per year to visit amusement parks like Disney World.
Last year, the district tracked more than $78,000 in checks paid to Disney, $52,469 to Universal Orlando and $43,540 to Busch Gardens, not including transportation costs, according to documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times. Most of those expenses were borne by parents, with fundraising to help low-income families, officials said.
But the majority of board members took a more expansive view, saying they favored most excursions, including occasional "reward trips" to amusement parks, as long as trip costs don't exclude any children.
Board member Jim Malcolm, a former teacher, said students learn from both the academic content and the sheer novelty of trips to Tallahassee, Washington or Boston.
"My kids were terribly excited, as new residents, to learn they were going to Disney World," he added, referring to his own children. "Did they get anything out of it? I think they did."
Board member John Sweeney agreed, saying superintendent Wayne Alexander should be given the chance to work out a sensible way to track and coordinate excursions from grade to grade.
"But if it ever happens that a student goes to Disney four times in one year, we should know," he added. "That shouldn't happen,"
The board is scheduled to vote Aug. 14 on the new policy.