Qualicum school district won’t put blanket ban on student trips overseas

The discussion included comments about the Nanaimo-Ladysmith district's decision on the topic

Local secondary school students will see the world in the coming year.

Probably.

The School District 69 (Qualicum) Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve a pair of Kwalikum Secondary School field trips to Japan and Costa Rica, respectively, while acknowledging the policy covering such trips will be reviewed in the coming months.

“I know the kids really value these field trips,” trustee Elaine Young said. “For some, it’s their only way to see the outside world. On the other hand, as a reasonable person you don’t want to send them into harm’s way. I don’t think there’s any place in the world that’s 100 per cent safe from fundamentalist terrorism.”

The approval of the trips, which join pending excursions to France by another KSS group and one to New York by a Ballenas Secondary delegation, comes one month after the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District voted to place a two-year moratorium on its students’ travel outside North America. That decision followed the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, in which a man drove a large truck through a crowd, killing 86, while Nanaimo-Ladysmith students were sightseeing nearby.

SD69 Superintendent Rollie Koop reminded the board the district has a multi-layered approval process.

That process includes each school’s principal signing off on field trip requests before they are cleared by the district office and, eventually, put before the board for approval.

“We’re also in a situation, I believe, that if we felt that there was something really troubling about a trip that had already been given approval, we would have to have the opportunity to intervene and step in and say we as a district are not in a place to go forward with that,” Koop said. “But I think what we’re talking about there is a case-by-case analysis, based on the best information available at the time, with the board and parents and principals and vice-principals always reserving the right to say at the end of the day, ‘I’m not putting my child’ or ‘We’re not putting our students in a position of jeopardy.'”

Two teachers sponsoring trips abroad attended the meeting and made their cases to the board. Brad Wilson, the KSS teacher whose trip to Japan was approved for March of 2017, noted it was not merely a sightseeing excursion but the latest in a series of cultural exchanges with Aichi Keisei High School in Nagoya, effectively a “sister school” to Kwalikum.

“I’ve been here 17 years and we’ve gone every second year,” Wilson said. “On the other years, their students come here. They’ve asked us to come; they’ve said, ‘We want to see you again.’ The relationship seems to stem from the community.”

John Preston’s request to take a group to the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France was approved by the board last year.

“With us going to France, it’s pertinent for us to have this discussion tonight,” Preston admitted. “First of all, thank you to the board for your approval; as a former guide at Vimy Ridge, and as someone who’s live there, it’s a pleasure for me to share this experience with my students.”

The timing of the board’s upcoming policy review of extracurricular and co-curricular activities, including field trips, is not related to the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District’s recent decision. It is part of a broader review of all of the district’s board and administrative policies which began last year and which was scheduled to continue in the coming school year.

School Board Chair Eve Flynn described the policy review as a “robust” process that will include input from a policy committee made up of members of the board, school administrators, the Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association (MATA), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC).

“We have through the fall to work on this, and then the policy would come before this board for first, second and third readings, with an opportunity for public input,” Flynn said. “There will be lots of eyes and ears on this.”

While the process may be months from completion, at least two board members signaled their unwillingness to follow the drastic move taken by the Nanaimo-Ladysmith district of a blanket moratorium on trips abroad.

“I have no appetite whatsoever to go down the road our neighbour has gone down,” Trustee Julie Austin said. “You can see the value of these trips. Yes, there are some things that are unforeseen. If, God forbid, something of a tragic nature like a Fukushima (nuclear plant disaster) were to happen in Japan a week before the trip, I would think the principals and the teachers and the students and the parents involved could sit down and talk about it and come to some conclusions.”

“Hear, hear,” added Young.

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