Dear Parents and Community Members,
It is more likely than not that your child will not have a field trip this year. I know that for most of you, this is not a concern, but enough parents have been posting comments on Facebook for members of the Board of Education to have taken note of it, and one parent made public comment about her unhappiness with the lack of field trips at the March 17 Board Meeting. I was given an opportunity at that meeting to explain to the Board and to the community why I support our district's Board-adopted policy and regulation concerning field trips, and why I am confident that it is not appropriate for Board of Education members or parents to expect that every child take a field trip every year. I was further invited to provide this statement to the community so that those of you who are interested in the question of field trips at MERS can better understand why some students go on field trips and others do not.
Our district provides one curriculum-required field trip: the 5th Grade Science trip to Sandy Hook. This is the only field trip that is specifically mentioned as part of our district curriculum, and it is the only trip that every child in the grade level attends. Planning this trip requires the time and effort of over 40 district employees, and that is without consideration of all of the weather-related cancellation and re-scheduling that is required every year. However, everyone involved in the effort is certain that what the students learn on the trip could not be taught by any other method than the hands-on experience so readily available to our students, who live so close to the Atlantic Ocean.
According to board-approved district policy and regulation, field trips are proposed, planned, and supervised by teachers, who are obligated to demonstrate that the trips they propose provide "the best method available for achieving the desired learning outcomes." The district budgets for and pays for all the cost of approved field trips, including transportation and, if required, additional nursing services. Financing of field trips by outside sources (such as Parent Teacher Associations (PTA's) or specific grants) requires the approval of the Superintendent and the Board of Education.
Other than the 5th Grade Science trip to Sandy Hook, all field trips occur at the discretion of the supervising teacher with the approval of the building principal, the Assistant Superintendent, and the Board of Education. Trips that have been approved are subject to cancellation if required nursing services cannot be provided.
Field trips are not an entitlement, and teachers are not obligated to provide field trips as part of their instruction. There are many reasons that a teacher may choose not to plan, propose, and supervise a field trip, chief among them that a field trip does not meet the requirement that it be "the best method available for achieving the desired learning outcomes" of the curriculum he or she teaches. Teachers today have many resources that allow students to see and hear people and places while sitting in their classrooms that previous generations could only have seen and heard by traveling to the field. Teachers in our district invite speakers to their classrooms, minimizing travel time for their students by asking the adult speaker to undertake the travel. Virtual and on-site learning experiences are often a better method than field trips for achieving desired learning outcomes, and they carry far less risk.
The issue of risk is another viable reason not to provide a field trip. Teachers may be reluctant to assume responsibility for student security in an environment that does not include the security measures provided in the school setting. Anyone who has never had that responsibility may not understand the enormity of it, but as one who has, I can assure you that teachers who make the decision to provide a field trip do so knowing that the trip includes risk that is not part of their daily classroom practice.
Teachers may also determine that the amount of time required for the field trip, both in terms of their planning and undertaking, does not justify the amount of learning to be gained from the trip. The only person who is qualified to make that decision is the teacher.
Our board-approved policy and regulation indicate that field trips occur at the discretion of teachers. While I recognize that some members of our community believe that their own experience of field trips in childhood was so positive that field trips should be provided annually to all students, it is my strong belief that the teacher who is teaching the class is the best person to make that decision. Policy and regulation place discretion for the decision on the same people who bear the prime responsibility for the outcome of the decision: the teachers. I respect every teacher's right to make the decision, and I support each teacher's individual decision. I hope that you as parents are able to respect your child's teacher's decisions about field trips.
Joanne K. Monroe, Ed. D.