RIDE Sits on Field Trip Policy Advisory Opinion

by | Mar 6, 2019

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

According to School Committee lawyer Matt Oliverio, the R.I. Dept. of Education (RIDE) has formulated an advisory opinion in response to the East Greenwich School Committee’s request for Commissioner Ken Wagner to weigh in on the legality of outside funds paying for school trips.

Only Wagner hasn’t signed it yet.

The commissioner hasn’t signed off on it and expressed some concerns about signing it,” Oliverio told the School Committee during their regular meeting Tuesday night. He said he didn’t know much more than that. 

In light of the delay – which could get caught up in Commissioner Wagner’s recent announcement that he did not plan to remain in the job – Oliverio said the School Committee should consider moving forward on the field trip policy without the advisory opinion. Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, who said she was frustrated by the delay, agreed.

“My primary goal has always been that I wanted to be able to provide some notice to the community about field trip policy,” she said. “I would like to see us make some progress on this policy, or possible policies … in advance of the next school year.” 

The School Committee was asking Commissioner Wagner whether or not parents can be charged for school trips that are designed to be part of the curriculum. The Cole 8th grade Washington D.C. trip is an example. Only about half the class went on the four-day trip last year, at a cost of $1,200 per student. It spans three school days and is tied to the 8th grade curriculum. This year’s trip was to cost $1,400. The School Committee, which had been looking to Cole administrators for the past three years to figure out a way to make the trip more affordable, did not approve the trip for this year. Parents, frustrated by the decision, stepped in to make the trip happen outside of school. About 70 students have signed up.

The discussion over field trips and who should pay for them started with Committeeman Matt Plain, who was elected in 2016 and since then has consistently voted against expensive school travel trips that came before the committee on the basis that any school-sanctioned field trip should be available to every student, not just those students who have parents who can afford it.

But that has prompted some parents to speak out in favor of the current policy, for fear that changing it to match Plain’s view could result in no field trips at all.

On Tuesday, Mark asked Committeewoman Anne Musella to add the field trip policy to her list for the policy subcommittee, of which she is chair. Musella said it would be on the agenda for their meeting Thursday, March 7, at 7:30 a.m. in the conference room across from Council Chambers at Town Hall.

“I would like to get this resolved in advance of the next school year,” said Mark. “I think the school community needs a clear way forward.”

Read more about this issue here.

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