By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The School Committee voted 6-0 last week to approve a new field trip policy eliminating parent fees for all trips relating to the curriculum or furthering academic achievement. Committeewoman Alyson Powell was absent.
The district revised the field trip policy, and the companion fundraising and student activity account policies, both in response to the School Committee’s growing reluctance in recent years to approve parent-funded school-based trips and the advisory opinion it received in April from former RIDE Ken Wagner about fees. Wagner’s advisory said schools could not charge fees for district-organized field trips using district resources.
What does that mean exactly? That trip to the zoo in second grade? No parent fee. That trip to a play in fifth grade? No parent fee. That trip for a mock trial competition in middle school? No parent fee. That Academic Decathlon trip in high school? No parent fee.
How those trips get paid for is another question. The School Committee approved new fundraising policies in June to help administrators figure out that piece. According to Committeewoman Anne Musella, the goal in approving the field trip policy Tuesday night was to give administrators, teachers and parents time to successfully chart a course through the new terrain.
“Administratively, that has to be operationalized, which will be a bit of a challenge,” Musella said of the new policy. “I believe there’s time to do that. I don’t think it’s that complicated.”
What did complicate the discussion at the July 16th meeting were so-called “social club” trips, like the high school ski club’s weekend trip to New Hampshire. The ski club is approved by the school principal (all clubs with a valid adult advisor are approved) and gets its picture in the yearbook. Some members only ever attend the monthly meetings; others go on that weekend trip to New Hampshire.
A 2008 advisory to West Warwick from the state Department of Education (RIDE) said, “Social events are excluded from this prohibition on fees.”
While most members of the School Committee seemed comfortable with that concept, Committeeman Matt Plain wondered if the “social” designation was just a way to circumvent the fee issue.
“I believe that we’re yet to accept that when a student is here in East Greenwich schools they get to participate in what we do at no charge. I think this social event and club language here is an attempt at an end-around,” he said.
For Musella, the focus on what she called a narrow part of the possible trips wasn’t worth holding up the whole policy.
“We are at least at 95 percent agreement about how to treat the traditional field trip,” she said. “I think it would be a shame to hold this up further because we still need to provide clear guidance to the community and to the faculty in time to plan for at the very least the traditional field trips for the upcoming year.”
She added, “We have to figure out clubs. We’re also talking about drama club [for instance]. We have to look at clubs that maybe don’t have trips but are part of our extra-curricular offerings that we’re charging fees for. We have to look at all of our practices and we’re not in the rabbit hole regarding a small percentage of the off-site trips that we have.”
In the end, Plain voted along with his colleagues to approve the new policy.
“The version ultimately recommended for approval adequately addressed the fee issue,” he said in an email after the meeting.
You can find the new policy here: Field Trip Policy.
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