The Winona Area Public School (WAPS) Board discussed the district’s field trip policy Thursday, a policy that has been under revision in one form or another for several years. (See story page 5a.) The board, once again, sent the draft policy back to district administrators after a section was left out which detailed whether district staff could advertise in school buildings trips that have not been endorsed by the board.
Several issues were clarified in the draft policy. Superintendent Scott Hannon said he consulted with an attorney from the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA), who told him the policy was the most comprehensive she’d seen in 35 years of advising school boards. The attorney told Hannon that allowing a district staff member to accept a free travel package from a travel company in exchange for chaperoning a trip would not violate the district’s policy against accepting gifts valued at more than $5. If the board approves the international travel package, Hannon said, it was also approving the free chaperone travel arrangement.
Hannon also said the MSBA attorney said that the district could allow staff members to advertise — in school buildings — trips that were not approved by the board. Any posters or other advertisements would have to include a statement that the trip was not affiliated with the district, and staff members could not solicit students during the school day.
Board members had questioned whether allowing such trips to be advertised on school grounds could pose a liability for the district if something were to go wrong on the trip, even if the board did not vote to endorse the student travel package. While Hannon found the answer to the question, he did not include the language within the draft policy, causing consternation among some board members.
“Scott, we’ve talked about this. This is the fourth time that [this policy] has been brought to the board,” said board member Ben Baratto. “You promised that language would be in here, and it’s not.”
Board members also discussed whether it was appropriate to allow foreign travel during the school year that causes students to miss several days of school. The draft policy states that such travel should occur in the summer, but allows the board to grant exceptions to the rule. In particular, the board discussed the Misato, Japan, trip, typically taken at the end of the school year and which causes students to miss seven days of class. Board member Steve Schild has long advocated moving the Japan trip into the summer months, when he said Japanese students are still in class and WAPS students would still be able to interact with the sister city school system while it was in session. Hannon said trip organizers are currently examining other possible dates for the trip, and other board members said they liked to have flexibility in the policy in case another foreign travel opportunity came up during the school year that might be beneficial for students.
The last time the board discussed the travel policy, it asked that Hannon find out more information about what kind of travel insurance should be required for international trips. The item was not included in the draft policy presented Thursday, nor was it mentioned by board members.
Senior High School schedule
The board also approved a “hybrid five-period” schedule for the Winona Senior High School, a schedule that will provide teachers with 90-minute prep periods for half of the school year.
Board members in the past have expressed a desire to ensure that 40 of the 90 minutes be spent working with students in a meaningful way, from co-teaching to small group remediation within another teacher’s class. Principal Kelly Halvorsen said there are a lot of opportunities for teachers to work with students under the new schedule and that it corrects many of the problems identified with the current trimester schedule.
Students will receive 330 minutes of instructional time per day under the new schedule, including two 90-minute “block” periods and three 50-minute “skinny” sessions. Halvorsen said the block and skinny class arrangement will allow for more meaningful scheduling that ensures students are able to “double up” on two-credit classes that would be year-long under a traditional schedule, so students could take two years of math or foreign language in one year.
Timeline of policy issues
A rundown of the recent field trip issues over the past few years for District 861-
• 2007- A choir trip to Poland leaves Poland with over $25,000 in unpaid bills related to the trip. The district is sent to collections for the overdue balance; investigation later also reveals a student was sexually harassed while on the trip, and students were allowed to go to a nightclub, where alcohol was served, without chaperones. A committee works to rewrite the field trip policy to provide for more oversight of trip planning and fundraising. A field trip oversight committee is formed.
• 2010 - School Board members complain that the field trip policy is not being followed; in particular, district personnel are not adhering to time frames for planning and board approval. The board asks in November that the policy again be rewritten, and the time frame for board approval is adjusted in December.
• 2011- School Board members take issue with the foreign travel portion of the policy in May. They say that another revision might be needed after trips to Italy, Greece, Costa Rica, Scotland, and Ireland were planned, but again did not follow the new policy’s procedures for time frames or administrator oversight committee approval.
• 2012 - In July School Board members ask a committee to retool the policy once more, and request the update of forms that provide information on how student travel is related to curriculum. Additional questions surface about what sorts of trips should be subject to a School Board vote, and about whether the district should be affiliated with foreign travel in the summer.
• 2013 - In March, School Board members request information regarding traveler’s insurance and what options would be available for field trips.