School board stops some student trips

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Sarah Nagem
Some students in Exceptional Children’s classes in the Rowan-Salisbury School System will spend less time off campus this year.
Dr. Crystal Vail, director of the Exceptional Children program, and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Dr. Rebecca Smith laid out field-trip guidelines for students with disabilities during the Board of Education meeting Monday.
Students in EC classes will not leave campus for community-based learning activities more than once every three weeks, Vail told board members.
They can leave school to train for Special Olympics up to 19 times throughout the year, she said.
In the past, some EC students have taken trips more frequently. “Some classes were off campus up to three times a week,” Vail said.
The Exceptional Children Department wants to limit students’ time spent away from school so they can have more instructional time in the classroom, she said.
Students with disabilities are held to the same standards as other students on federal and state testing requirements.
EC students’ scores are factored into a school’s Adequate Yearly Progress, part of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, and the state’s accountability program.
Community-based learning trips should tie into what students are learning in the classroom, Vail said. They should also be age-appropriate.
The rules of Special Olympics say students must participate in at least eight practice sessions to compete in an event.
But some EC classes in the Rowan-Salisbury system went to the YMCA once a week last year to practice for the swimming competition.
Now, students will be allowed to leave school eight times a year to prepare for swimming and another eight times to practice bowling.
The other days set aside for Special Olympics activities will allow students to compete in three days of competition.
They will prepare for the track and field competition on school grounds.
Students will no longer visit the Saving Grace horse farm in Salisbury, which provides therapeutic activities for people with special needs.
In the past, only students whose parents signed a waiver could participate at Saving Grace. Some students were transported but couldn’t participate, Vail said.
The activities at the horse farm had “no curriculum-related component,” she said.
Some parents of EC students have expressed concerns about limits on field trips. They have said their children learn valuable skills, like interacting with strangers and paying for items at stores, during off-campus activities.
But no parents addressed school board members about the issue Monday night.
Smith said the school system will consider how a field trip relates to a student’s individualized education program, or IEP. “We don’t just want to be going to the store for the sake of going to the store every Thursday,” she said.
Other trips denied
Also Monday, school board members denied field-trip requests from two middle schools after discussing the cost to families and students’ time away from class.
The board said no to a Corriher-Lipe Middle eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., planned for April. Corriher-Lipe eighth-graders have taken the trip for years.
Students would have paid $450 to $550 to go to Washington, according to the request. The school was expecting to take about half of its 190 or so eighth-graders.
“I continue to be concerned about the cost of some of these trips,” board member Karen Carpenter said.
In the past, the school allowed students to set up a payment plan for the trip, Principal Beverly Pugh said.
The board also denied West Rowan Middle’s request for an eighth-grade trip to the N.C. State Fair in Raleigh next month. That trip would have cost each student $35.
“Times are really hard right now. … There are families who can’t take their kids anywhere,” said Principal Nancy Barkemeyer.
When the economy is bad and families might not be able to take vacations, she said, the school system should step up and offer trips.
But asking parents to shell out money for field trips when gas and food prices are high could put them in a tough spot, some board members said.
Board member Kay Wright Norman said she worries about students who stay at school instead of taking a trip.
“If it’s significant enough to attend,” she said, “it’s significant enough for every student to go.”
Dr. Jim Emerson, chairman of the board, said he doesn’t like some students getting out of class while others don’t. He also doesn’t like students missing classroom time.
The board approved two other requests from West Rowan Middle: a student council trip to Reidsville and an eighth-grade trip to Savannah and Charleston.
The trip to South Carolina will cost each student about $425. West Rowan teacher Holly Brumley told the board she seeks donations to help cover the cost for some kids.
Last year, she said, the school found enough money to pay for 20 students to go on the trip who might not have otherwise been able to afford it.
Board members also approved a trip to Indiana for students in Future Farmers of America programs at Carson, South Rowan and West Rowan high schools.
“I see this a little differently in that these students elect to take these classes,” board member Patty Williams said.
The board also approved a trip for some students to attend space camp.
Carpenter said she is afraid pricey field trips lead to a system of “haves” and “have-nots.”
But some students might not have the chance to go places like Washington if it weren’t for school trips, board member Bryce Beard said. “Sometimes this is an advantage for the have-nots,” he said.
The board approved a policy change regarding field-trip requests. Now, schools must include a plan to help low-income students pay for trips.