One of Missouri’s most notable school liability cases involved a student drowning while on a field trip. No swimming was planned, but students waded in the river after eating a picnic in a park nearby. One of the students drowned. Although some accidents are not preventable, this one was.
As spring approaches, many of you will be planning field trips for your classes. Consider the following pointers as you plan school outings.
Clear all field trips with the administration. Prior to publicizing the field trip to your students or their parents, talk to your administrator to obtain permission to take the field trip and to arrange for transportation.
Set rules, and make students and parents aware of the rules. To avoid confusion, have each student and a parent or legal guardian sign a copy of the rules you have drawn up for trips outside the school building. The rules will vary according to the age of your students but should include things like staying with the group, what to do in case of emergency or separation from the group, and any special instructions specific to the destination. Students and parents must also be aware of the consequences of breaking the rules, and educators should be sure to apply all rules consistently.
Always obtain a permission slip. Even if parents signed a “blanket” permission slip at the beginning of the year, it is a good idea to have a specific permission slip signed by each parent to confirm that he or she is aware of the date and location of the field trip and to remind him or her of field trip rules.
Be proactive if you plan on using technology while on the trip. If you plan on communicating with students while on the trip by cell phone, either through calls or text messages, you should get prior approval. The use of technology should be addressed both with the administration and as part of the permission slip you send to parents. If a parent opts out of allowing contact with their child by cell phone, respect that decision.
Track funds collected for field trips carefully. Never deposit field trip funds into your personal bank account. Don’t keep money in your classroom, even if it is locked at night. Take the money to the office. If possible, confirm the balance with an administrator before locking it up. Checks should be made payable to the school district, booster club, or activities fund, but never to you personally or another individual.
By Jacquie Shipma, former manager of legal services and human resources
Assisting with the article: Karen Sholes, former paralegal/administrative assistant