Thursday, December 17, 2015

LRSD and Holy Spirit school boards address foreign field trips

Chris Davis

Holy Spirit School Division Superintendent of Schools Chris Smeaton announced today, December 17, 2015, that alternate destinations will be found for field trips of level of 2 or greater risk as described by the Government of Canada's travel advisory service.

"The terrorist attacks on civilians in Paris this past November have placed international field trips to the forefront of public attention over the past few weeks," said Smeaton in a letter to staff, students, and the Holy Spirit community.  "It's a topic I've considered very closely, especially as our division has six out-of-province field trips planned for this school year."

"As an educator, I clearly see the benefit of these trips. Travel is an amazing way to help students build resiliency skills and independence. Providing opportunities for them to witness the richness of different cultures broadens understanding and compassion. However, I must be prudent in my decision in order to limit risk to our students and staff. Clearly there is a fine balance that must be struck between these two extremes."

"In order to gain broader perspective I have been in conversation with parents, administrators, and insurance risk assessment professionals. Taking into consideration their collective feedback, it is my decision that Holy Spirit Catholic School Division will not impose a blanket cancellation on all out-of-province field trips. Instead, each trip will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and parental meeting will be held for each to thoroughly discuss the risks and benefits. For European trips, alternate destinations will be arranged if the itinerary includes France, Belgium, or any other country with a risk level of 2 or greater (as described by the Government of Canada's travel advisory service)."

"The safety of students and staff remains my primary focus. Risk assessments provided by our insurance brokers, Government of Canada travel advisories, and any other relevant data has been closely reviewed in making this decision, and will be considered in any future decisions required. I reserve the right to cancel any trips I feel are too great a risk at any time. Similarly, trips will be ended early should the need arise."

"Parents place a great deal of trust in us when they allow their children to travel internationally. This is a trust that I take very seriously. I feel that this decision to review each trip on a case-by-case basis, rather than cancelling all travel outside of Canada, strikes the necessary balance between keeping students safe while still giving them the unique education opportunities that these trips provide."

After their December 8 meeting the board for Livingstone Range School District #68 (LRSD) said "Superintendent Driscoll reviewed the travel policy and process and stated all schools have been updated with concerns, in addition to information on cancellation insurance.  The Board of Trustees and Central Office Senior Staff will monitor all current international travel implementing various checklists to ensure all parents and school staff are kept up to date on current proposed travel.

Earlier this month the Edmonton and Calgary Catholic school boards announced they were cancelling all international trips for the time being, as did the Black Gold Regional Division (south of Edmonton) and the Palliser Regional Schools Board, who said it accepts "its insurer's recommendation regarding cancelling student travel to Europe this year."  The Alberta School Boards Insurance Exchange (ASBIE) is the insurer for the majority of Alberta’s school boards.  ASBIE issued a bulletin strongly recommending against school trips to Europe. “Students lose if we cancel travel, but if something goes wrong, we all lose,” said Palliser Schools Superintendent Kevin Gietz in presenting the bulletin information.  Some school boards in the province have postponed a final decision on the issue until early next year.  Others appear to be leaning toward an approach similar to Holy Spirit's.  The Horizon School Division told the Vauxhall Advance that no trip cancellations were planned, according to a story published December 11.   

A theme common to most school boards who have made a decision was reiterated in the Palliser Schools release: "Trips to other international destinations will be considered on an individual basis and monitored by administration using federal travel advisories."

On December 14 the Calgary Board of Education Chief Superintendent of schools David Stevenson announced his decision "to resume planning for all international student trips for the remainder of the 2015-16 school year, except those scheduled to travel to France." Stevenson also said "This was an extremely difficult decision, and one I did not make lightly. Parents trusted us to make a decision that first and foremost took into account the safety of their children. This decision involved 1,028 students in 19 schools from Grades 8 to 12 traveling to various international destinations in the United States, Europe, and Asia. We heard from parents, teachers and students about the value of these global experiences. Parents also urged us to make decisions based on the destination and the travel advisories for each area. As a system, we also needed to consider the risks."

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