Laws for Field Trip Planning & Managing
published on October 03, 2014 by Lisa London
School districts have legal, ethical and moral obligations to keep students reasonably safe and secure when in their care. This obligation extends beyond the school grounds into off-campus field trips. These off-site excursions open up students to potential hazards that would not be present in the normal school environment. Therefore, safeguards must be set for the protection of students and to ensure that risks and potential liabilities are minimized.
Laws for field trips vary from state to state. There are also varying laws for school’s designated as public or private. Therefore, school personnel must always refer to and comply with the district or school board policies for all specific laws regarding field trips.
Below are some key areas that every school district should focus on for field trips to help reduce the risk of liability.
FIELD TRIP ACTIVITIES AND INSURANCE
School personnel must determine the appropriateness of activities for the students based on age, skill and behavior levels. They should also ensure that the school districts insurance coverage extends to the field trip location and specific activities. There may be some activities deemed as high risk, such as certain water or animal activities that may not be covered by the school districts insurance policy.
The school personnel in charge of any field trip should have a copy of each student’s emergency medical authorization form in their possession at all times. Authorized medications must also be taken on the field trip and remain in a secure location. All school personnel and chaperones must be aware of specific student medical needs and have plans in place to accommodate those needs.
SUPERVISION AND CHAPERONE SELECTION
School personnel must assign the proper ratio of supervisors to students based on school district policies and evaluation of individual field trips. There may be certain instances when school personal should increase the ratio of supervisors to students because of the specific field trip activity. Also, a higher number of chaperones may be required for elementary school age students compared to middle and high school students.
Additional selection criteria will need to be considered for specific field trip activities. For example, chaperones trained in lifeguarding skills may be necessary for field trips involving water. Overnight trips will require gender specific chaperones. When traveling out of the country chaperones who speak the native language of the area would be invaluable. Chaperones qualified to deal with children with behavioral, mental or physical challenges will be needed to assist students with special needs.
All chaperones must also be at least 21 years of age and in some instances may be required to undergo a background check. The school district must take all measures to provide adequate supervision for their students.
Transportation is required for all off-campus field trips. District school buses should be the preferred means of transportation because it is generally the safest mode of transportation. All school bus drivers are trained school employees that already have the skills, training and expertise of transporting students on a daily basis.
There may be instances when dealing with smaller groups that other transportation options, such as a school van may be more cost effective. Generally the use of private vehicles is not recommended. When using private vehicles the school district does not have the control to ensure the safety of students.
When air transportation is required districts will need to confirm if this mode of transportation is covered by the school districts insurance coverage. If insurance is not coverage for air travel then students may be required to purchase additional insurance.
PARENTAL/GUARDIAN INFORMATION AND CONSENT
Parents and guardians need to be informed in writing of all field trips their child will attend. Parents and guardians need to be aware of the planned field trip activities as well as any possible hazards and risks. For overnight or out of the county field trips there also needs to be an informational meeting where parents and guardians have the opportunity to ask questions. Parents and guardians will also need to sign permission slips authorizing their child to attend the field trip. Districts need to be aware that these forms do not necessarily waive liability.
The additional legal issues that need to be considered for field trips should not deter school districts from providing valuable learning opportunities to their students. There is no need for school districts to reduce or eliminate field trips based on possible legal ramifications.
Adhering to all field trip policies will help to greatly reduce the risk of liability associated with field trips. When deciding on field trips that align with the school’s educational mission and budget, the focus should be on proper preparation, adequate supervision and carefully followed procedures.