The Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board took another look at the district's student field trip policy Thursday night. During the sometimes heated discussion, board members came to an agreement about which trips should require board approval.
Board members agreed by consensus that for most overnight trips, they simply want to be notified that students will be traveling, opting not to require board approval for most kinds of travel. Only “extended trips,” or those without a direct curricular connection that won’t occur while school is in session will face a vote from the board. But on Thursday, it became clear that not all school board members believe that this kind of trip should be affiliated with the district.
Extended trips are defined as those that are not directly tied to classroom study, and the new policy states that they must occur outside of the school year. That means that the trip that takes middle and high school students to Japan will now have to be rescheduled so that it does not cause students to miss school days. All foreign trips are also considered extended travel, and extended travel trips will be the only kinds of student travel that will require a vote from the school board.
During the meeting Thursday night, several board members wondered why the district would affiliate itself with certain kinds of international or extended travel that occurs in the summer and isn’t directly related to study. Board member Gary Shurson said that he had recently spoken with several employees of other school districts who were surprised to learn WAPS was involved with international travel at all.
In the past, the board has approved such foreign travel to allow teachers to recruit students at school, hang travel posters, and hold informational meetings in school buildings. Superintendent Scott Hannon has advised in the past that if the trip is advertised or students recruited at school, it would create a liability for the district. Thus, the board has in the past endorsed and approved such trips in order to ensure that the trips are planned in a safe manner.
Board member Mohamed Elhindi wondered why the board would spend so much time and energy on that portion of the travel policy if the issue was simply about hanging posters advertising trips at school. He asked why, if the trip was not directly related to curriculum, and if it occurred outside of the school year, the district had any business with it at all. Board member Ben Baratto suggested that travel companies and teachers advertise those trips at the mall or other location. “That would get us out of the picture,” he said. “You could get killed walking across the street in Winona, but the world is a dangerous place and I think [being affiliated with foreign travel] puts the board in a very tenuous position.”
Board member Steve Schild said he felt the draft policy, with the inclusion of the “extended travel” category, was a good way to oversee such travel. He said that the Japan trip, which is not directly related to curriculum, has been perceived as receiving special treatment in the past. This way, he said, the Japan trip could still be a district trip, and the extended trip category would provide more uniformity and eliminate the perception that the trip is treated differently than other travel which is also not related to curriculum.
Shurson suggested that the Japan trip could simply be affiliated with another community organization, adding he felt the district did not need to be involved in that kind of travel.
In the end, the board asked that staff rewrite the policy to include language that ensures that board members would be made aware of travel that took students outside the district overnight. It is also expected to continue to discuss the field trip policy at its next meeting.
Gift trips: conflict of interest?
Baratto brought up a district policy that prohibits employees from receiving gifts of significant value from individuals or entities with which it does business. He said that often, student travel companies will pay for chaperone and teacher trips, providing for packages in which one chaperone trip is provided for free for every six students who pay to go along.
Baratto said this situation could be a violation of the district’s policy against employee gifts, which states only gifts of “nominal value” may be accepted. “Three-thousand-dollars is more than nominal value,” said Baratto.
High School principal Kelly Halvorsen said the district could instead opt to pay chaperones for their time on trips, but Baratto disagreed. “Then the board is taking a stance [that it doesn’t] support international travel,” said Halvorsen.
Board chair Greg Fellman said that, essentially, that travel arrangement means students are paying for chaperone travel. It means student fees cover that cost, he said. “It is what it is.”
Board member Jay Kohner said that chaperones work hard on student trips, and that they are not getting something for free.
Superintendent Scott Hannon said he felt the issue needed legal interpretation, and said he would have district attorneys evaluate the issue.