PORTLAND – The School Committee is reviewing its policy on students’ field trips and foreign travel, to limit the legal liability of the school district and committee members.

The committee will consider a proposal tonight to eliminate district-sanctioned trips abroad, but one member wants to do more to limit the district’s legal exposure and ensure the safety of students and staff members.

For years, the School Committee has reviewed and voted on proposals for a variety of trips for students, including trips abroad, several of which are organized each year by teachers and other school employees.

The committee would no longer sanction trips abroad under a proposal that will be considered at 7 tonight in Room 250 at Casco Bay High School on Allen Avenue.

“This policy change clarifies that the school district and the School Committee are not involved in organizing or participating in these trips in any way,” said Justin Costa, the committee’s policy chairman. “If something were to go wrong, we cannot afford the liability, and it’s not something we’re asking our staff to take responsibility for either.”

Costa said the policy change targets trips abroad because they usually aren’t directly tied to the curriculum or funded by the district.

As proposed, the revamped policy says non-sanctioned trips will be the responsibility of the individuals or groups that organize them. School staff members could not organize or recruit students for trips abroad during school hours, and students and staff members could not be excused from school to take trips abroad.

School supplies and equipment, such as telephones and photocopiers, could not be used to organize trips abroad, and organizers would have to make it clear that trips abroad aren’t sanctioned by the School Committee or the school district.

Jaimey Caron, a committee member who has concerns about students’ field trips and foreign travel, said the proposed change is a good first step.

However, he said he believes the committee should establish a comprehensive policy for school-sponsored trips to ensure that all Portland schools follow the same steps and use the same forms to get the district’s approval.

In seeking permission, staff members should outline the educational purpose, cost and other details of a trip and report the results afterward, he said. They also should have written plans to ensure the safety of students, staff members and others on the trip, including emergency response plans.

“When these trips appear on our agenda, there isn’t a lot of information backing them up,” Caron said. “At best, our approach is a patchwork, and I’m concerned that we’re putting the district, our staff and our students at risk. We need a better understanding of what’s being done and what our liabilities are, to make sure everyone involved is protected and safe.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]