School field trips back on … for now

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Nanaimo school district has reversed its decision to put all out-of-province and international field trips on hold this school year, but at least one parent isn’t satisfied.

Donna Reimer, district spokeswoman, said the trips will now receive tentative approval, as long as parents sign a waiver acknowledging the trip would likely be cancelled in the event of a full strike by teachers during the time the trip is scheduled.

For insurance purposes, a district employee must accompany students on the trip, she said, and since all unionized staff would honour the picket lines, the district can’t say for certain someone would be able to accompany students.

“We can’t guarantee that there would be an excluded staff member who could go,” said Reimer. “We’ve gotten advice about it. There’s too many liability issues, having someone who’s not an employee be in charge.”

The waiver states that if the trip is cancelled and payments are not refunded, parents cannot make any claim for compensation from the district.

Sherry Blake, a parent heading up the fundraising efforts for Woodland Secondary School band students’ Cuba trip, said the agreement still means students could lose their trip and all money paid.

She wants the district to allow other adults, whether it’s parents, community members or an excluded district staff member such as a principal or administrator, to lead the trip in the event of a teacher strike.

“We’ve given [the superintendent] other adults who can go as trip leader,” said Blake. “It seems like we’re at the same sort of sticking point.”

District policy allows principals to appoint an adult to lead the trip, while internal guidelines stipulate that trip leaders must be school district employees.

Blake argues the policy supersedes the guidelines.

She said the Woodlands students are already being accompanied by a retired band teacher who could serve as trip leader.

Trustee Jamie Brennan, who made a motion at a recent board meeting asking staff to review the decision to put a hold on trips, said he was told that to protect insurance, a district employee must accompany students, but he doesn’t see why a non-union employee can’t be found to take the groups.

“I want the board to facilitate these groups on their trips,” he said.

Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said if teachers go on strike just before a field trip, the teacher would not be able to attend because that would be considered crossing the picket line.

While it’s not ideal if teachers can’t go, he said administrators should be able to go in their place.

“We have administrators who won’t have as much to do if teachers are on strike,” he said.

Most if not all of the trips will go forward without a hitch, DeGear added, and he plans to work with the district to ensure there’s a Plan B.

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