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CHANGE of HEART...Seniors trips exempted

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By Thomas Barr

 MOUNT WASHINGTON - A senior trip planned in April for Bullitt East students may not occur. Well, that was the view in early September.

While the request for permission had not crossed the desk of  Bullitt County Public School Board members, the issue was a topic of discussion at a monthly workshop session.

But, after hearing from three Bullitt East seniors, the school board voted 3-0 to make an exception to the rule - a rule in which they all voiced strong support.

All three schools are eligible for the senior trips this spring.

Over the past year, the entire issue of field trips, especially those which are out-of-state, have been a topic of varied discussion.

Greg Schultz, assistant superintendent for student learning, said all field trip requests must be approved by a director.

A key element has been the educational value of any field trip.

He said numerous field trips have been denied in the past.

Over time, he said the interpretation of “educational value” has probably gotten more strict.

The particular trip discussed at the September work session dealt with the Grad Bash in Orlando, Fla. High school seniors have routinely been part of a weekend opportunity.

Superintendent Keith Davis said one of his concerns is that instead of missing three days of school in April, the trip could have been done during the previous week - which is spring vacation.

When the official field trip request was made just three days before the September board meeting, Schultz said both Bullitt East and Bullitt Central desired approval to attend.

The cost would be $500 per student but there are provisions that state that no child could be prohibited from attending due to a lack of funds.

Although not against the idea of senior trips, Schultz said the district must also be aware of what happens to the 80 percent of the students who may not attend.

If a regular classroom teacher attends to chaperone, then a substitute must be found and paid to cover the class.

And then what if the student who doesn’t attend just decides to stay home. That hurts the district financially.

Board chairman Tim Wiseheart said prior senior trips involved Friday through Monday. He wasn’t sure why it couldn’t be done during spring break.

“You have to be consistent,” said board member Dolores Ashby at the Sept. 9 work session. “Rules are for everybody.”

At the Sept. 23 board meeting, Bullitt East senior Emily Fryman was joined by Mackenzie Bass and Kaleigh Sharpe in making a plea for the board to approve the field trip.

“It’s something we’ve all looked forward to,” Fryman said of the senior trip.

Having only gone on one field trip - a rainy ballgame at Slugger Field - Fryman said the senior trip is something that everyone has planned for since their freshman year.

There are certain criteria for students to meet during their senior year to attend the function, said Fryman.

With so many things happening at the school over the course of the past four years, Fryman said it would not be fair to suddenly decide the trip would not be allowed.

If the trip was not approved, the girls assured board members that many of the seniors would not be in attendance those days.

Fryman said she understands the board’s concern about educational value. If the students had known that was part of the application process, she said they could have come up with ways to prove the value. 

In fact, all three said they would write papers about their experience if that was part of the approval process.

Wiseheart echoed a sentiment expressed by several of the board members - many e-mails and calls had been received on the issue.

Personally, he wasn’t concerned if a senior who is close to graduation misses a few days of school to attend the trip. Maybe it should be considered some type of an award for 12 years of schooling.

But Ashby said she is still very firm in her belief that the 2011 board policy on field trips is very important.

She laid more blame on the staff for not properly filling out the application to state a reasonable educational value.

Wiseheart added his concern was that if the board strayed from the policy, could it be opening itself up to other challenges.

The chairman had no problem issuing a one-time exemption.

Board member Darrell Coleman said the issue placed the policymakers between a rock and a hard place.

He loved field trips as a student and as a teacher. But he said the board had never voted on this particular request.

And Schultz agreed because it had not officially been filed until recently and it was past the deadline to put it on the board’s agenda.

Schultz said he really didn’t care one way or the other. He said there were much more important things to do in terms of student learning than to spend more time on field trips.

Davis said the board instructed him to look at policies on field trips and a little tighter scrutiny. That is what he instructed Schultz to do.

The board voted 3-0 (Lorraine McLaughlin and Roger Hayes were out of town and not in attendance) to allow a one-time exemption to allow all three high schools the opportunity to attend a senior trip.

North Bullitt principal Jeff Marshall said the opportunity had not been mentioned at his school due to the sentiment expressed. However, if the other two schools are included, he wanted to make sure his seniors were given the same opportunity.