Making the decision on international travel

Board Policy #10- Board Delegation of Authority states the following: The Superintendent has been delegated the authority to approve out-of-province and international field trips. This means that at the end of the day, it is me who decides whether field trips abroad are allowed or not. It is irrelevant to debate whether this is right or wrong, some boards follow this procedure, some take on the responsibility themselves. The fact is, we have seven trips occurring in this category this coming school year and a decision on their future is required.

During my tenure as superintendent, I’ve had to cancel one international trip. Catholic Central High School used to take students on an immersion into poverty to Cuernavaca, Mexico on a yearly basis. The year previous to the cancellation, I clearly remember the phone call I received about gunfire outside the compound where our students were staying. I’m sure I was not the only one in the Division who had restless nights until our students were home safe and sound. The following year, I stood in front of parents and students, many of whom spoke passionately about the importance of continuing this life changing experience. In the end I decided to cancel the trip and although I believe I made the right decision, I will always be saddened at the lost opportunity of our students to experience that trip. You see, I’m a great believer in the learning that can only be achieved through travel. In fact, I’m in the process of setting up an equity fund so that students coming from impoverished backgrounds have this experience.

Now we come to this school year where we have two trips to Europe, two trips within Canada, one trip to Japan and one trip to the United States. On Monday and Tuesday, I will be meeting with parents to discuss our two European trips. Part of the meeting will be to provide a lay of the land but it will also be to simply listen to our parents. While the ultimate decision rests with me, I still want to hear from them. Over the last couple of weeks, I reviewed what insurance providers are suggesting and read the decisions of many school divisions in and around Alberta. There is no one size fits all!

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the direction provided by insurance providers plays a part in these decisions. Unfortunately liability and risk management have too much of a role in what we do in schools but, without their support, school systems would be highly unprotected. Simply stated, any act of terrorism is not covered and there is no waiver that a parent can sign that would exonerate a school division from its responsibility if anything should happen. Sobering thought!

The question that has no simple answer is, “How much risk is too much?” Although if you listen to some, it seems quite simple. Being an arm-chair critic is the easiest job there is when dealing with these issues. It is really interesting (tongue in cheek) to listen to people who have an opinion but no real responsibility. Who stands in front of the parents if a tragedy occurs? Not any of them! I don’t begrudge any school division’s decision and nor should anybody else. It is disappointing when people point fingers and talk about “when they had a similar experience” and nothing happened. There is no similar experience today because the world has vastly changed! I’m also a little disheartened when a Federal Cabinet Minister states that he doesn’t understand why school divisions are cancelling or even suggesting the cancellations of international trips. Really?

Regardless of the decision I make, people will line up on either side to support or criticize. It is not an easy decision and it should weigh heavy on my mind. But in the end a decision will need to be made to continue, modify or cancel trips on an individual or blanket basis and with hope that the right decision is made!


    • Avin Gokarn on December 14, 2015 at 7:00 AM
    • Reply

    I don’t envy your decision. I wouldn’t want the responsibility to answer to parents should something tragic occur, However, there is no way to avoid risk in this world. Any parent who chooses to send their child on such a trip inherently takes the associated risks and to expect a school board or any other entity to be able to control terrorist acts is ludicrous. Due steps to ensure safety should be taken and always are taken. Beyond that, we are out of anyone’s control. I, for one, would like to see us take the hard road, the road that may leaves us open for the remote chance of possible litigation, but allows our students to live and learn. Take the risk. Allow trips to continue. If parents are too worried about it, they will not send their children.

    1. Thanks Avin for your thoughtful response. As I said, it is not an easy decision but looking forward to hearing from parents in the next 2 nights and sharing my insights with the Board on Wednesday.

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