Uniform student travel rules eyed
Martha's Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) superintendent James Weiss presented a draft student travel policy to the All-Island School Advisory Council meeting on February 5, as a starting point for creating a standardized policy for schools Island-wide, including Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS).
"As we've been moving forward, one of the things I've tried to do as consistently as possible is to promulgate policies for all of Martha's Vineyard's schools, because having different policies or no policies is just driving me crazy," Mr. Weiss explained in a phone call last week. "I talked with the elementary school principals, and they did not have student travel policies, so I took the high school policy as the starting point, and began to draft a policy that would be for all of Martha's Vineyard's public schools."
The revised policy also is a first step towards clarifying and restructuring the regional high school's student travel policy, which recently came under fire from several teachers in an article in The High School View in the February 5 Martha's Vineyard Times.
"Teachers who once felt that the school would stand behind them should a problem occur now believe that language in the current policy would place virtually all liability on them," the article stated.
Mr. Weiss said, however, that the travel policy is the same as it's been since its adoption in 2007. "It's not a change at all - it's just that people don't necessarily understand what they're doing," he said.
Sponsored or sanctioned?
The high school's current student travel policy classifies trips by two types, school-sponsored and school-sanctioned. A school-sponsored trip is one connected to curriculum, open to all students in a group, with fundraising done and managed in the school's name by the school, Mr. Weiss said. "And we have some obligations to the community when it's a school-sponsored activity," he added. "We have to make sure that it really is available to anybody in that group: if it's the senior class that's going, it's got to be available to the entire senior class."
"These are not easy issues to deal with, and I don't know the answers at this point - and I think that's the part that some people miss," Mr. Weiss said. "They thought we were changing policy, and we're not. The high school's policy is in place, and we're going through a process of looking at what we want to see happen, and trying to build a policy that will allow that to take place."
A matter of liability
If a travel policy was in place for elementary schools, an eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C., and day trips to the Boston Science Museum would be considered school-sponsored trips, for example.
"The school owns the liability for those - very clearly," Mr. Weiss said. "It's just like a day in school. And as long as the teacher and other chaperones are acting within their job description, they don't have any personal liability - the school has the liability."
Currently the high school classifies three field trips as school-sponsored, including a trip to Ireland for students in social studies department chairman Elaine Weintraub's Irish history and culture classes, an England exchange trip, and a trip to Washington, D.C., for students participating in the Close-Up Program, according to Mr. Weiss. "The others are what we call school-sanctioned - we know they exist, but we don't have control of them," he said. "One way to look at this is the only trips we're going to be involved with are school-sponsored trips, because we don't have control of the others."
Mr. Weiss said that last year, for example, a high school teacher took a small group of students to Germany on his own. "We don't have any liability for that - it wasn't a school-sponsored activity," he said. "The only liability is the individual liability of the teacher and the students. Now, many people think, however, that a teacher was involved; therefore, it was a school trip. But it wasn't. And that's the kind of differentiation we're trying to make clear."