[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]

Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 28, 2011

Policy update at GCSD
School field trips must be tied to curriculum

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — At its August meeting, the school board here will vote on a revised policy and guidelines for field trips that require all trips to have “a well-defined educational purpose.”

During the last school year, the district had budgeted $40,000 for field trips, to pay for transportation, according to the assistant superintendent for business, Neil Sanders. For the upcoming school year, in the midst of cutbacks to close a $4 million gap, no money was budgeted for field-trip transportation.

Field trips may still be taken, covered by school insurance, but paid for individually or by fund-raisers.

The policy is being revised to align with a decision by the state education commissioner. “The commissioner says trips have to be directly linked to a course of study,” said Superintendent Marie Wiles, who worked with the school board’s committee in revising the current policy.

The decision was issued in April 2000 by then-Commissioner Richard Mills after Philip Christe had objected to the Bedford School Board in Westchester County approving spring-recess trips to Spain and France as “school-sponsored trips” for some foreign-language students and their teacher-chaperones.

“It is improper to use public funds to subsidize a trip that is essentially a private recreational experience and not a part of a school district’s educational program,” Mills stated. And, he went on, that, while it “is well recognized that school field trips are an integral part of the educational experience,” the trips in this case “were essentially private trips rather than an integral part of the foreign language department’s educational program, irrespective of the incidental educational benefit to the students.”

Mills said that other factors to consider when determining if a trip is a school activity include “whether the trip was an approved part of the educational program of the school, occurred during the regular school day and year and was recognized as appropriate for academic credit.” He also noted that the Bedford trips to Europe were “not open to all students who were enrolled in foreign language courses or who had a legitimate academic interest in foreign language.”

Mills ordered that the board in the future “refrain from using public moneys to subsidize student trips that are essentially private recreational trips rather than an integral part of the district’s educational program.”

“Legitimate connection”

Under the revised Guilderland policy proposal, trips taken by the Travel Club would not be acceptable, as they are not tied directly to curriculum. Neither would end-of-the-year celebratory trips such as those to amusement parks.

At Altamont Elementary School, for example, graduating fifth-graders used to take a seaside end-of-the-year trip that fit in with their “Voyage of the Mimi” curriculum. In recent years, however, they have hosted a community carnival to raise funds for an end-of-the-year trip to an amusement park.

Asked if the new policy would prohibit this, Wiles said, “If there isn’t a direct link, the commissioner would argue it can’t be a school-sponsored trip.” She stressed, “It doesn’t really matter who pays for the trip.”

Wiles went on, “We might need to look at trips we take and make sure there’s a legitimate connection.”

“The vast majority of trips” taken at Guilderland are connected to the curriculum, said Wiles.

The revised guidelines say that overnight or out-of-state trips as well as trips over 100 miles must be approved by the superintendent, and that international trips must be approved by both the superintendent and the school board.

The revised policy also says that trips for competition or performance are not considered field trips.

“If we have a policy,” said board member Allan Simpson at last month’s meeting, “we have to adhere to the policy.”

Paying for trips

“Any field trip has to have a relationship to learning,” said Colleen O’Connell at the board’s meeting last month; she is now the board’s president. She gave an example of an appropriate field trip: a day trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. taken by Guilderland students who had studied Holocaust literature.

The cost for airfare was $200 per student. The students paid for their own airfare, admission, and lunch, said Wiles.

O’Connell said that only 11 of the 29 students in the class, along with a teacher, went to the Holocaust Museum. She also said that the students left behind when classmates are on a field trip must have an “appropriate activity” to do in the absence of the rest of the class.

Gloria Towle-Hilt, now the board’s vice president, asked if the tough economic times meant that more students couldn’t afford trips. Towle-Hilt said that, when she taught at Farnsworth Middle School, “We always had a few that couldn’t afford it, but we had a reserve.”

“It would have to be their choice, separate and apart from whether they can afford it,” said Wiles. She told The Enterprise, “The cost of a trip shouldn’t be something that denies students’ access. If a student opts not to go because he has an after-school job or is on the lacrosse team, that’s perfectly fine. But if they don’t go because they don’t have the $200, that’s not appropriate.”

Students can fund-raise, or groups like the Parent-Teacher Association can help students in need, she said.

The policy guidelines state, “School-sponsored activities for students to earn money should be made available so that no student is excluded because of cost.”

Travel Club

While a French teacher taking students to Paris would be directly related to the curriculum, Wiles said, Travel Club trips — “essentially pleasure trips” — would not be allowed under the revised policy, she said.

“Of course there is educational value in such trips,” she said, “but it is not linked to school curriculum.”

Wiles noted that the stipend for the Travel Club advisor was not funded in the budget for the upcoming year. Travel Club trips — often of groups of students going abroad — could continue, Wiles said, but would be private, not school sponsored.

“Many schools in the state have moved all trips outside the realm of school sponsored,” she said.

[Return to Home Page]