Summit school travel decisions are arbitrary, costly
In November 2001, in the wake of 9-11, the Summit School District Board of Education adopted a new travel policy. It included, at the request of Superintendent Wes Smith, a provision in the permission slip that states “my child and I recognize the right of the district to cancel a field trip for any reason deemed sufficient by the school board or administration and understand that the district shall bear no responsibility for financial losses, including loss of deposits, resulting from cancellation.”
This provision is a dereliction of the duty of the board to define policies, and improperly authorizes the “administration” to cancel trips “for any reason.” The cancellation of the Summit Singers’ trip to Italy by the superintendent, without consultation with all involved parents and teachers, shows how much this improper transfer of authority is subject to abuse.
This provision is particularly surprising since the comments of the school board at the time make it clear members believed substantial decision-making authority would remain in the hands of parents.
Indeed, the minutes of the Nov. 14, 2001, school board meeting show “Mr. (Jay) Brunvand said he is pleased with the policy which allows the family to make the decision.”
It is hard to imagine how this statement could describe the policy which places the decision entirely in the hands of one person, the unelected district superintendent.
It is even harder to imagine why such a statement was needed if decisions were to be based on reasonable and predictable standards.
No one would question trip cancellation in the wake of specific State Department alerts concerning a country. Indeed, one can even get insurance to cover cancellation in that event.
One cannot, however, get insurance to cover the unilateral and arbitrary decision of one man, whatever his title.
The school board needs to take responsibility for its actions and those of the superintendent. It does not do this by allowing that superintendent to delay until only a week before a trip and then cancel it.
The school board must take the time to review this decision at it meeting tonight.
The school board needs to foster an atmosphere of open communication with the community, with parents and with students. It does not do this by supporting decisions made without consultation, or by allowing them to stand because of prior commitments.
The Summit Singers of Summit High School have been honored by being selected to perform at an international festival in Verona, Italy.
The opportunity, the experience, and the fruits of the efforts are being stolen from them by the school district and the school board.
Furthermore, the actions and comments of Mr. Smith provide grave doubts to the band students planning a trip to Hawaii. They, too, are working hard to travel so that they can perform in two concerts.
Will Mr. Smith wait until the week before that trip and cost the students and parents of this trip another $50,000 or so because he doesn’t feel right about the trip? We all deserve predictable policies, not rules based on any reason deemed sufficient.
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