Fayette school board considers changes for chaperones and students on field trips

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comNovember 22, 2013 

Chaperones wouldn't be able to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, and students would have less free time on school trips under proposed policy revisions being discussed by the Fayette County School board.

No changes have been approved yet, but district staff have suggested to board members that teachers be responsible for planning more structured trips and for making sure that parents know their roles and responsibilities as chaperones, said Lu Young, the district's chief academic officer.

Staff members presented some proposed revisions to the school trip policy at a board planning meeting this month. Board members had so many questions that the issue was tabled until December.

The team that worked on the proposed changes is "going back to the drawing board to get more information" for the board, Young said.

Board member Amanda Ferguson said she and other board members found a lot of gray area in the suggestions they received.

"It gets really ... muddied," Ferguson said.

Meanwhile, Young said she did not know if there had been problems with chaperones on trips.

Fayette County officials reviewed their trip policy, in part, because the state regulations regarding accounting procedures for school activity funds changed as of July. Those changes could affect some trips, according to Susan Barkley, an Assistant Director in the Kentucky Department of Education's Division of District Support.

According to the Georgetown News-Graphic, Scott County school officials said recently that state regulations were partly responsible for their decision to cancel a band trip planned for March.

In Fayette County, a team assembled by Superintendent Tom Shelton worked on revisions to the school trip policy this summer, Young said. Young said roles and expectations for chaperones had not been previously included in the school trip policy.

District staff members are simply trying to cover all of the bases as far as clear expectations for chaperones, she said.

Under one proposal, chaperones would have to sit with students spaced throughout the bus instead of with other adults so they could help monitor student behavior on any trip.

If adults are riding on a school bus or a school-chartered bus, then every adult who is on that bus would have to be an officially designated chaperone, Young said.

Chaperones might not think anything at all about smoking outdoors on a school trip, Young said. But one proposed revision states clearly that adults would not be able to use alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs while chaperoning.

Under some revisions proposed to the board, chaperones would have to be approved by the principal and participate in an orientation by the supervising teacher or staff members. Adults would have to sign a form acknowledging their responsibilities and undergo a criminal background check, Young said.

Under the revisions discussed, supervising teachers would have to plan trips so that there is as little unstructured time as possible.

"Unstructured time can lead to more problems," Young said.

Ferguson told the Herald-Leader that it's unclear what the rules might be for parents who drive in their own vehicles and follow a school bus carrying their children on the trip. Young said that's still under discussion.

Would parents who accompany their children on athletic or academic team trips have to follow the same guidelines as parents who are considered chaperones? Young said she doesn't think so.

"Parents could be at an event, but not functioning as a chaperone," so guidelines for chaperones would not apply, she said.

A looming question is whether the board will continue to allow international travel for students, Young said. District staff members are giving the board more information on that issue.

James Brown, 1st Vice President of the 16th District PTA in Fayette County, said he did not know that the board was reviewing proposed revisions for field trips. But Brown said he thought parents and teachers on school trips should follow whatever conduct rules they would be required to follow while at a school.

Fayette Board Vice Chair Melissa Bacon said it was too early to comment on the policy because it was still being revised and would not be approved by the board this month. Board chair John Price said he would prefer to wait to comment "until more work has been done on this proposal."

Meanwhile, Ferguson said she knew of no previous problems on school trips. But she said she thinks practices might be inconsistent from school to school.

"We've got to be clear as to what we expect of our chaperones," Ferguson said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears

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