Hamilton County Schools trips get close look before OK, Rick Smith says

Hamilton County Schools trips get close look before OK, Rick Smith says

October 19th, 2012 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

The entrance to the offices of the Hamilton County Department of Education is seen in this photo taken on April 7, 2009.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


The Hamilton County Board of Education also discussed changes in the 2013-14 academic calendar. The human resources department has created three calendar drafts. All of them push the school year by at least a day beyond Memorial Day. One draft maintains a weeklong October fall break, while the other drafts propose eliminating it or shrinking it to just a four-day weekend. School officials will put the calendar drafts up for a vote to the more than 6,000 school district employees before the board makes a decision on which to approve.

Hamilton County Schools officials are being more cautious about approving school field trips. And so is the school board.

In a work session before their regular monthly meeting Thursday, board members discussed the possibility of eliminating school-sponsored senior trips and other excursions that aren't academically driven.

Board members discussed nixing longer overnight trips altogether, eliminating of nonacademic senior trips, putting restrictions on overnight trips for elementary students or maintaining current rules on trips.

Superintendent Rick Smith said administrators would bring the board a policy suggestion next month. In the meantime, he said his staff is questioning field trip requests much more closely before they ever get to the school board for official approval.

"We are very, very carefully scrutinizing field trips now," he said.

After a school-sponsored spring break cruise to the Bahamas in March, seven Signal Mountain high school teacher chaperones and 16 students were disciplined for breaking school policy and consuming alcohol.

But Smith said Thursday's discussion over trips shouldn't be centered on one school or one community.

Last school year, eight high schools sponsored senior trips in March and April. Save Signal, all of them went to Orlando.

So far this fall, five schools have requested to take a senior trip to Orlando, including Brainerd, Chattanooga High School Center for the Creative Arts, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, Hixson High and Red Bank High.

Several board members questioned the prudence of sponsoring noneducational trips.

"I'm for these trips, but I just don't know that it needs to be our responsibility and our burden for things that have nothing to do with education," said school board member Greg Martin.

Board attorney Scott Bennett said in sanctioning such trips, the school system assumes liability.

"We're as responsible for those students in Orlando, Florida, as we are if they're on the campus of Brainerd, CCA, CSAS, Hixson and Red Bank," he said.

School board member Jeffrey Wilson said the board shouldn't separate one group of students -- seniors -- from others who take educational overnight trips.

"It's not a liability issue," he said. "If it's a liability issue, don't do any overnight field trips."

Board member Rhonda Thurman questioned several overnight field trip requests for elementary students that appeared on Thursday's agenda. Those trips have students going to Jekyll Island in Georgia and Nature's Classroom in Mentone, Ala.

"I don't think you can have enough chaperones for this," Thurman said.

They were ultimately approved by the board.