School trips can meet ethics rules

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School trips can meet ethics rules

POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 6, 2015
LAST UPDATED: 1:34 a.m. HST, Oct 6, 2015

As anyone who has been on a school trip can attest, group educational travel comes with its own set of risks.

The state Board of Education will consider a proposal to limit the state’s exposure to such risks by drawing a clear line between public schooling and private enterprise. It’s a step in the right direction.

A BOE committee has developed rules for school trips to avoid the potential conflict-of-interest issues raised by the state Ethics Commission.

The committee addressed other concerns as well, including liability and worker’s compensation for trips that are outside the core educational program — areas where it’s reasonable for the state to limit its exposure.

The school board should approve the basic framework of the plan, which would enable pending trips to take place under certain circumstances and set a clearer directive for future travel. Finding a way to ensure the viability of such valuable student enrichment should be a priority for the board, which is scheduled to act on Oct. 20.

Today’s regular meeting, when discussion is set to begin, should produce even more specific guidance on how fundraising and other planning elements for trips should take place.

The BOE committee took up the issue following warnings from the commission that teachers could be running afoul of state ethics laws.

The problem the commission legitimately raised was that some trips scheduled during school breaks for educational enrichment — to Washington, D.C., for example, or overseas — put the teachers in a conflicted position.

By working with tour companies to arrange and promote optional student trips, and by allowing the tour companies to cover the cost of their own travel, the teachers were essentially functioning as agents for the private companies to drum up bookings paid for by public school parents.

Les Kondo, Ethics Commission executive director, showed the board somewhat high-pressure brochures teachers relayed from companies to students and their parents, some claiming that the trips can lead to better academic performance.

The committee proposed criteria for a “school-sponsored trip,” including those taken by school academic and athletic teams, a school band trip, an extracurricular trip “under the purview of a school,” or a trip for an entire class that was clearly tied to class curriculum.

Those that don’t fall under that heading would be private. Teachers arranging them would have to do so outside of their regular duties, said Brian De Lima, the BOE vice chairman who served on the committee. This means that posters advertising trips, frequently seen in school common areas, could remain, as long as any contacts for signups happened outside of school, he said.

Teachers could still use school facilities for organizational meetings, as long as they reserved them and paid for them as any other member of the public would do, De Lima added.

The committee concluded that “directory” information for the students is generally not considered private, he said, unless otherwise designated. But for the purposes of a private educational trip, stricter privacy rules should apply.

As for currently planned trips, many of them slated for spring break, the committee recommended that families be told plainly that the trips are private and be asked to reaffirm their commitments.

“Everybody wants to do the right thing,” De Lima said. “You have a set of ethics laws, and they need to mean something.”

Yes, they do. Clarifying ethical procedures for school employees, while making room for educational travel, would be wise policy for the board to adopt.


Schools panel tackles travel ethics

A Board of Education committee’s solution would divide class trips from private jaunts


By Susan Essoyan

ON THE NET:
The committee’s report is posted at the board’s website, http://www.hawaiiboe.net.

POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 5, 2015


A Board of Education committee has come up with a possible solution to the ethical dilemma posed by public school teachers traveling free as chaperones on field trips they organize with tour companies.

The plan would clearly delineate between school-sponsored trips and private travel, and require the former to conform to the state procurement code. School employees could still travel free as chaperones on such trips, but would not be involved in negotiating with travel companies.

Private trips could continue, but they would have to be arranged separately from the school by people acting in their private capacity, without state involvement or resources.

The recommendations of the Investigative Committee on Ethics, Educational Travel and Teacher Participation will be considered Tuesday at the board’s regular meeting.

The board intervened last month after a face-off between the Ethics Commission and the Department of Education over the issue dragged on for months with no sign of progress.

“We wanted to find a can-do solution,” said board Vice Chairman Brian De Lima, who served on the committee with fellow board members Hubert Minn and Amy Asselbaye. “We invited everyone to participate.

“We wanted to ensure that opportunities that have been available continue to be available, but be done in compliance with state law. The investigative committee was able to get everybody to sit in a room and understand exactly what is permissible and what is not permissible, what are the conditions.”

Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi and Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo took part, and the committee considered how other school districts handled the issue.

The Ethics Commission first raised red flags in the spring about the role teachers were playing in working with tour companies to arrange and promote student trips for educational enrichment during school breaks.

The commission said some teachers appeared to be violating ethics provisions against conflicts of interest and accepting gifts because they were acting on behalf of the tour company to solicit participants and accepting free trips and other benefits in return for their official action.

That stance provoked an outcry from teachers who said they were not getting a benefit, but giving up their own vacation time to expand their students’ horizons, and shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of chaperoning children 24 hours a day.

The board committee’s report spells out criteria for school-sponsored trips, including the requirement that such trips be approved by the principal, complex-area superintendent or superintendent.

School-sponsored trips must involve a school’s athletic team or academic team traveling to a competitive event, such as a tournament or science fair; a school band traveling to a competitive event or performance; or any other extracurricular event under the purview of a school. Educational trips that involve an entire class, grade level or school would also be included.

For school-sponsored trips, the procurement code would apply, determining which tour company would provide travel, based on the best deal. The cost of chaperone travel would be covered by the Department of Education, including a new fund specifically for school-sponsored travel, which could receive donations.

“What we would be doing is creating a fund in order to comply with state law and the procurement code to receive the donations or benefits that are derived from the negotiated travel arrangements, so there is no direct solicitation for the benefit of any specific employee,” De Lima said. “The resources are then used to support the school-sponsored trip.”

Many travel companies offer a free trip for every 10 or so tickets booked as a group.

Unlike school-sponsored trips, private travel would involve students and guardians who opt in, with parents contacting the travel company directly and handling the transaction. Educators could be involved strictly on their own time, not in their role as teachers or administrators. No school resources could be used to plan, solicit participation or raise funds for the trip.

The tour company would work with teachers and other individuals to chaperone the tours, and negotiate compensation without involvement of the state. The tour company and chaperones would be required to make clear that tours are not sponsored by the school and that the educators are acting in their private capacity.

Trips that are already in the planning stages for this school year that do not meet the requirements of a school-sponsored trip should be canceled, and could be reorganized outside of school as private trips, the committee recommended.