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School Trips To Change After Camp Bernie Problems


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The Verona Board of Education will implement sweeping changes to selecting and managing parent chaperones for all school field trips after parents caused a series of problems during an overnight field trip this month.

During the fifth grade field trip to Camp Bernie, a YMCA facility in northwestern New Jersey, parent chaperones violated the trip food policy, failed to supervise children who needed to use the restrooms, left their assigned cabins to sleep in their cars, made campfires in and around sleeping cabins and held a private party, which allegedly included alcohol. A student in an under-supervised cabin had an asthma attack, which required medical attention. There were no reports of problems caused by the students. The Camp Bernie trip is intended to foster cooperation and team-building among the middle school students and provide environmental education.

As a result of the problems, the schools will be required to select chaperones for all trips differently, beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. The BOE did not fully spell out the new procedures, but indicated that they could include background checks, which are required of all volunteer youth sport coaches in Verona. Superintendent Steven A. Forte also said that he had spoken to Verona’s police chief about possibly bringing the department’s school resource officer on all overnight trips, which would include the Camp Bernie trip and the Verona High School band trip to Disney World, which was approved at last night’s meeting.

The BOE also promised that chaperones for all trips would get written notice of the rules for each trip. The rules communicated to Camp Bernie parents specified that no snacks were to be brought in, because the food could attract the bears that are common in that area and because of the possibility of allergic reactions. Parents were also told they were to remain in their cabins with their charges, were not permitted to start fires and that camp was to be quiet after 11 p.m. A letter e-mailed to all fifth grade parents after the trip that was signed by Forte and H.B. Whitehorne’s principal and vice principal stated that, “We did not feel it necessary to specify to parents that alcoholic beverages were prohibited from the trip, as it seemed obvious.”

An excerpt from the letter sent to fifth grade parents

But the chaperone policy changes were not enough to mollify some of the parents who attended last night’s meeting, who requested that the fathers who allegedly brought alcohol on the trip be barred from chaperoning all future trips. Neither those fathers, nor the mothers who left their cabins to sleep in their cars, have been publicly identified, and the BOE indicated that it had no authority to do so or to enact an outright ban. Forte said that he had investigated the allegations around the trip with police officials in Verona and by the camp, and had consulted with the BOE’s lawyer as to whether a crime had been committed. Verona has a so-called 24/7 policy that allows the schools to discipline students whose behavior results in a police report, whether that behavior occurred on school property during school hours or not. The 24/7 policy, which is now under review as a result of decisions by the state’s Department of Education, does not apply to parents.

Dr. George Ambrosio, a medical doctor whose son was on the trip, urged the BOE to view the alleged alcohol consumption as a serious threat to children’s’ health. He noted that, in the U.S., the average age that boys start with alcohol is 11 and that parental endorsement affects that decision. “They made drinking and partying cool to fifth grade boys,” said Ambrosio of the fathers. “That’s the problem.  I view this moment as an opportunity to influence kids’ behavior in the future. … Kids need to view destructive behavior as uncool.”

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]


  1. Sounds like the concerned parents who were not on the trip should take atleast a little bit of time to spend with their kids and chaperone themselves on an outing. What a joke!

  2. Seems to me that leaving the cabin to sleep in your car could be considered wreckless abandonment – which, as far as I know, is an action subject to prosecution.

  3. Proir to the Camp Bernie trip, I voiced my concern to Mr. Forte and Mr. Freund about who was chaperoning the chaperons because of stories I had heard from the previous year. The overnight aspect of this trip needs to stop. If you schedule the trip on a Friday, get the kids to school by 7 AM and then back on the buses after the night hike, you can accomplish the same goals.

  4. There were issues years ago when my children attended this trip. I am wondering if it is time to discuss and discern why it is necessary for 5th graders to have an overnight trip at all? Perhaps one long day would be plenty for children and chaperones alike?

    Obviously, the need for how chaperones are chosen is an important discussion as well.

  5. Yes, maybe the story is a joke to you. Get the facts before making dumb blanket statements about parents not taking a little time to spend with their kids. There were plenty of chaperones, 70 chaperones to be exact, how much more than a 1 chaperone to 2 children ratio would you think is needed, not everybody could go as a chaperone as you surely did (and if you did not have a child that went on the trip, or you didn’t go then you have no say in this matter). The point of the story is that some chaperones did not act responsibly, and made the trip about them and put themselves ahead of the children. The problem is with the behavior of the chaperones. This has nothing to do with parents not spending time with their own children.

  6. Really? lets punish the kids and take away a fun (and they have to love the sleepover aspect, just think back to when you were a kid) trip for the children because of a few irresponsible chaperones who believe “normal” rules that apply to the rest of Verona do not apply to them? I mean these kids are 11 and 12 years old, they can handle it. The breakdown here was with the chaperones, not the children.

  7. According to my kid, the punishment was having to sleep in the dusty and dirty cabins on a hard mattress while starving because the food was inedible.

  8. Sammy,
    someone is feeling guilty. Let me guess, are you one of the parents that did not chaperone? if you want to bash the chaperones that took the time off of work to be with their children so they know their children are safe, then you are the one making dumb blanket comments.

  9. After 40 years in Scouting, there have been many changes. The 2 biggest ones are Guide to Safe Scouting and Youth Protection.
    These are standards that are NOT ever deviated from, perhaps this should be new standards for the Camp Bernie trip. It should remain an overnight, it’s a good experience, I went with my son, years a go, happy to say the only problem might have been lack of sleep.

  10. It seems as though these parents were very bored. No harm done, lighten up, way too over protective these days.

  11. Thank you Virginia for reminding people this is a CIVIL forum. I would like to add that whether or not a parent went on the trip or stayed home, people should not be jugdemental why some did or did not go. I am not being over protective, and I do not want the trip to end. This year, I did not have a fifth grader, but will have one soon. However, I can speak from experience since I have chaperoned overnight trips with other organizations. The primary role of a chaperone is to model behavior in a new and different enviroment, albeit be a safety net. Today, children are losing their youth too quickly because of many things. Is it too much to ask that for one night, we, the adults, focus on modeling good, ethical behavior.

  12. George,

    First off, thanks for proving my point. Obviously the few chaperones do deserve a bashing. You think they are entitled to whatever they want to do because they took time off work? Taking off work has nothing to do with anything. Isn’t that the whole point of a chaperone, so not everyone has to take off work to make sure their kid is “safe”.

    Should I walk my child to school everyday and sit with them in class to make sure they are safe? Of course not. I should just trust that the school will provide a safe environment to the best of their ability without any negligence, and barring any unforseeable diasaster.(this example is just an analogy, I am not saying the school has any blame or acted negligent)

  13. There doesn’t seem be any criminal behavior here, but there does seem to be idiotic behavior. While this incident probably ranks low on the list of problems facing the Verona PD, the Verona PD should have an active interest. Parent volunteers of athletic teams and other activities conducted on township fields or in township buildings must undergo a background check conducted by the Verona PD. To the extent that any of these pinheads have been granted the privelege to coach/supervise children in the past, I would hope that the Verona PD would see it in the best interest of the kids of Verona to revoke that privilege.

    To the extent that the culprits of “Weekend at Camp Bernie’s”, show up on the sidelines or dugouts of the town’s field and courts in the future, their presence there will render this background check a meaningless rubber stamp. The joke will be on the PD, and the well-intended volunteer leadership of the town’s youth sports organizations.

  14. A reminder to all those attempting to comment on this story. MyVeronaNJ.com welcomes a dialogue with and among its readers that is open, honest and fair. Our long-standing Comments Policy requires that all comments be posted under a real name. We hold all comments until we verify that they are being posted under a real name. Comments that do not include a real name are returned to the submitting address and the commenter is notified that a real name must be supplied before publication.

    Commenters on MyVeronaNJ.com are also responsible for all legal consequences arising from their comments, including libel, infringement of copyright or actions that threaten a third party. By submitting a comment, you are agreeing to indemnify MyVeronaNJ.com LLC and its partners from any legal action arising from your comments.

  15. Is this the current version of the Stokes State Park trip that I remember my kids taking in 5th grade? It was an extraordinary experience for them, including the sleep-over part. The worst part I remember of chaperoning was the adrenaline energy that kept the kids up giggling and chatting way past MY bedtime.

    Sounds like a few of the chaperones this time made some bad decisions – maybe a chaperone meeting with Superintendant and HBW principal to lay out clear expectations is needed before the trip; and a signed contract that clearly spells out expectations for chaperones. It’s a school-sponsored trip, and just like during the day in school, the adults are responsible for insuring the safety of the children in their care (that old “in locus parentis” that guides our behavior as teachers.)

  16. What a disgrace. Slowly turning into a Wayne Hills situation. Nice job dads/coaches!!! Perhaps Meg’s idea of a signed contract is necessary. Maybe the threat of reprecussion against the STUDENT will finally make some of these parent’s put the well being of their child first, since it seems that they cannot, FOR ONE NIGHT, do so on their own.

  17. Gee with a Hillbilly as a mascot what would you expect. A rifle and jug of booze. Typical Verona BS.

  18. I hope this trip is optional because I have a kid coming up to the 5th and unless I get picked as a chaperone I won’t allow him to attend.

  19. I have taken off many days to chaperone youth, I have a responsibility to the kids and their parents that the trip is safe and fun, this not a case where you do what you please. Contracts are only as good as the ink on the paper. A selection process will have to used to determine who will chaperone in the future.

  20. I am very upset about this. Obviously, some of the parents did not understand their responsibility as chaperones and saw the trip as an opportunity to think only of themselves and leave children in harms way. If this is an on going problem, then the overnight stays should be done away with. I know I am going to have a hard time letting my child go next year if chaperones are not going to behave like chaperones but like babysitters.

  21. What happened at Camp Bernie this year has upset many parents, but it should also be noted that most of the parent chaperones on this trip did what they were supposed to do in a responsible way. Unfortunately, policies and rules usually have to be written for worst-case scenarios.

  22. Just because no body was seriously hurt doesn’t mean this should be taken lightly or that we are being over protective. If a child was in need of help or medical attention and an adult supervisor in charge was not present I’m sure criminal charges would have been pressed.

  23. I can’t believe that the BOE would decide not to punish those chaperones involved, or prevent them from being chaperones in the future. For one thing, it leaves the BOE open to lawsuits if one of these guilty chaperones were involved when a child becomes injured at another event. I know I would definitely getting a lawyer and wouldn’t fault anyone else who chooses to do so. If the BOE doesn’t ban these people from being future chaperones, then We as citizens of Verona should have a petition to have the BOE ban these people!

  24. Fortunately for the BOE , nothing “went wrong” with respect
    to the children that were there. To say that “they dodged
    a bullet” here is an understatement. Now that summer
    is here , the BOE does not have to face the public/or parents again until late August. With time, this issue will probably be forgotten , unless the concerned parents follow up with the BOE prior to the new school years planned field

  25. BLAH,BLAH,BLAH……..Verona people are so perfect in thier own little world!Keep thinking that the kids don’t know ADULTS don’t drink and that your little world is soooo perfect> Can’t stand any of you!

  26. Donna, you should have ended your post after the third word and it would have made more sense. it has nothing to do with kids knowing or not knowing adults drink. Why don’t you take the time to actually read and understand the story.

  27. Robert,
    great idea for the petition. If you want to reach your
    goal of participants in it , why not post the link on
    NJ.com . Seems to be some activity there with regards to
    this Camp Bernie incident too. Good luck!


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