The Winona Area Public School Board of Education revamped its field trip policy earlier this month, clarifying which types of student travel must be approved by the board and how foreign travel would be regulated.
Trips in which students do not leave Minnesota must be approved by the superintendent but not the School Board. The board also changed language governing international travel. While the policy language states students should not miss class for international travel that is not related to curriculum, the School Board can override the prohibition if it votes to approve the travel plans.
The board had discussed the possibility of disallowing international trips that are not directly related to curriculum if they would require students to miss school days. The annual Japan trip, however, swayed some board members to allow the rule to be broken with a board vote so as to continue the district's affiliation with the Japan excursion.
"I look at the Japan trip as completely different [from other foreign travel] for a lot of reasons," said board member Ben Baratto. Board member Brian Zeller agreed. "I'm a big proponent of travel study," he explained. "I think it's a huge learning experience."
Board member Steve Schild said there was a perception in the community that the Japan trip was treated differently from other foreign travel, adding that students missed a lot of class time for it. Another concern, said Schild, was student safety on foreign trips. Sending kids to a Pacific Rim nation that has experienced a tsunami and nuclear meltdown, he said, was dangerous.
The board also decided that student trips that are not sponsored by the district could still be advertised at school, after superintendent Scott Hannon said it would not create a liability for the district if something went wrong. Hannon had, in the past, warned against allowing such trips to be advertised at school, or allowing travel recruitment meetings in the classroom.
Foreign travel plans must now be presented to the board six months in advance of departure, and trips in which students leave the state should be presented three months in advance. Exceptions for the three-month planning time frame can be made by the School Board for some out-of-state travel, such as ski trips that may be hard to plan.
One question still remains about the policy—the type of travel insurance required for international trips. Hannon said he would talk to local travel agents to investigate available insurance that would fit the needs of such trips.