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School Board Eyes Field Trip Rules

Education: Oak Park district may clamp down on excursions following a drinking incident by the football team last summer.


OAK PARK — Spurred by a football team excursion last summer that was marred by underage drinking, school board members will consider strengthening the district's field trip policy to provide better adult supervision of students.

The proposed changes will be reviewed at a meeting tonight at 7, and a final vote on the new policy is set for the board's Nov. 21 meeting, said Marilyn Lippiatt, Oak Park Unified School District superintendent. The board meets at Oak Park High School, 899 Kanan Road.

Parents and high school students are encouraged to attend tonight's meeting and offer their opinions, Lippiatt said.

Under the proposed changes, students would be required to stay in hotels rather than in individuals' homes when traveling on overnight field trips, and all chaperons authorized by the school would have to stay overnight as well. Also, the proposal would dictate that at least one chaperon be assigned for every 10 students on a field trip; the current policy contains no ratio, Lippiatt said.

The policy review comes after the district suspended the high school football coach and 18 team members from several games this season. The players were found drinking in host homes while away at a tournament in Santa Ynez in July.

Field trip sponsors would be required to complete an overall checklist. It would ensure that all students submitted permission slips, emergency contact information and medical release forms. It also would spell out that round-trip transportation is arranged for each student and that chaperons and drivers have evidence of insurance and any other necessary documentation.

"It's a chance to say, 'How can we support people who are really putting themselves on the line by taking students off campus?' " Lippiatt said of the proposed changes. The revisions amount to "support for the teacher . . . and assurances for the parents."

The school's field trip policy has not been updated since 1987, Lippiatt said. Most of the guidelines being considered are recommended by the California School Boards Assn.

"The thinking behind it is not that things aren't ever going to happen, but at least you have the opportunity to supervise students and there's someone there in very close proximity," Lippiatt said. "That way, if they choose to do anything [rebellious], it's in spite of everything.

"Sometimes, just knowing the person you're accountable to is right there gives you some leverage for the choices you make."

Terri Siegel, whose son graduated from Oak Park High earlier this year, said the changes to the policy sound fine, but cautioned administrators that simply tightening the rules is not enough.

The quality of the chaperons is as important as the ratio, and teens can do as much damage in a hotel room as they could in a private home, she said.

Not all parents are embracing the plans, however.

"It's kind of an uptight paranoia to think you have to watch kids that closely," said Elizabeth Reid, whose 15-year-old daughter Jessica is a sophomore at the high school. "A lot of the time, the parents who are the most prohibitive have the kids who sneak around."

Reid thinks students should still be able to stay over with individual families on out of-town-trips, as the football players did over the summer. "It's a good experience for kids to stay with other people," she said.

All the chaperons in the world won't keep a teenager from experimenting with alcohol, she added. "The kids are probably laughing behind their backs," Reid said. "Kids always find a way around."

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