School board discusses field trip policies

MARSHALL – In light of a recent incident, revisiting school field trip policies became a logical point of discussion at the Marshall Public School Board meeting Monday at Marshall Middle School.

On April 23, a 4-year-old boy was mistakenly left behind on a class field trip to the Children’s Museum in Brookings, S.D. While the boy was reportedly unharmed, the incident is one that MPS administrators and staff members certainly want to avoid in the future.

“Students will be counted multiple times,” MPS Superintendent Klint Willert said. “Each count will involve two completely independent counts.”

The new field trip policy is much more specific, laying out even more expectations than the previous policy did, Willert said.

According to the newly-revised policy, procedures and practices for student field trips require pre-approval by building administration at least 15 days in advance, signed consent forms from parents or legal guardians, any adult chaperones to adhere to and follow district background check procedures and for staff to follow all district policies related to the trip.

“Rosters including parent contact information is required,” Willert said. “So is a first-aid kit and student medical information obtained from the school nurse.”

Regarding student to chaperone ratios, Willert said he didn’t feel there was a one-size-fits-all number.

“I don’t think we want to require a specific ratio of students to chaperones,” he said. “All trips are different. We have to take the maturity of the students and the activity itself into account. A day hike at Camden State Park would be different than a trip to the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Pavilion.”

The new policy, if approved at the regular meeting, will also require staff to provide the office with a copy of the field trip itinerary, including the location of the trip, anticipated stops and emergency contact information. Willert added that whenever possible, staff will research the site ahead of time to determine the safety of the location, what experiences the children might gain and if the activity is age-appropriate.

“There needs to be some clean-up on how we administer this,” Willert said. “It’s been an indicative practice. It just needs to be put in document form.”

Willert pointed out that all trips would require an adult to have a cell phone, though he doubts that should be a problem nowadays. For trips within walking distance, students must be kept together. He also noted there should be a plan for food allergies and student medicine needs. If parents are transporting the child separately, staff will need to obtain written documentation accounting for the child, and at no time will a child be released to someone other than a parent or guardian without prior approval of the program administrator.

Board member Matt Coleman asked if a separate bullet point could differentiate the season activities during the year, at which parents of athletes or participants are required to sign out after events.

“Those fall under a different category than field trips,” Willert said.

Board member Bill Mulso had concerns about the mileage limits on field trips. Pre-K trips must now stay within 30 miles of Marshall. Kindergarten through fourth-grade trips require students to stay within a 100-mile radius, while fifth- through eighth-grade student trips are to be no greater than 200 miles. There are no limits on high school trips, but is contingent upon board policy and administrative approval.

“A guideline is better than a hard and fast rule,” Mulso said.

Willert noted that some administrative discretion can also be exercised if needed.

Board member Jeff Coleman asked if the teachers signed the policy forms and if there was a code of conduct form for chaperones to sign. Willert said that teachers read the form, but did not currently sign the policy, and that there was no chaperone form at this time.

“Maybe they need to sign this,” Chapman said. “I would like to see them sign so we know they’ve read it.”

Willert agreed.

The board also discussed reviewed fundraiser policies and a budget update.

“We have a 15.2 percent reserve,” Willert said. “Remember, we have an 8 percent target goal on our district score card. We’ve increased our reserve because of all the dynamic uncertainties. So what is the tolerance of dipping into that reserve?”

Willert noted that MPS is currently looking at a $700,000 deficit, mostly because of a mandate that requires that 2 percent of a district’s general fund be set aside for staff development, unless a local agreement can be reaches. Then the mandate could be waived.

Approximately $350,000 could be made up in all-day, every day kindergarten funds from the state, Willert said, but that money wouldn’t show up until the 2014-15 school year.

The potential deficit is also due to the hiring of two elementary teachers, two elementary principals and the legislative sequestration.

MPS Business Director Bruce Lamprecht said that 1 percent of the reserve money equals about $200,000. Lamprecht added that the district is also facing a projected loss of about $90,000 for integration funding, so the reserve will sit at about 15.2 percent at the end of June. By the end of June, 2014, the reserve could be down to 10.8 percent, he said.

“It’s still above the 8 percent target, but we don’t like dipping into the fund. It’s there for uncertain times, though, and this is one of them.”