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Chaperone Policy? Other Schools Have One

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If you want to be a parent chaperone for a school field trip in Towson County, Maryland, you will be given a document that outlines what is expected of you. Number one on the list: You can’t drink alcohol or do drugs on a school trip.

Sounds pretty obvious, right?  Apparently not, because many school districts have issued written policies on being a chaperone that begin just that way.

The Verona Board of Education does not have a chaperone policy, despite the many field trips that take place at its six schools. But that is likely to change as a result of problems during the fifth grade field trip to Camp Bernie in May. On that trip, parent chaperones risked attracting bears into sleeping cabins by bringing food into those cabins. They 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.

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It wasn’t the first time that Verona’s parent chaperones have caused trouble : Eight years ago, during the fifth grade overnight that was then at Stokes State Forest, a parent chaperone in a fright mask created such a disturbance that the State Police had to be called.

What might a Verona BOE chaperone policy look like? The policies in place at public schools around the country offer some models.

Alcohol and drugs top the list of no-nos, but they aren’t the only parent behaviors targeted. Many policies ban guns, as well as smoking cigarettes and using cell phones for personal calls. Chaperones can’t administer medicine, and they can’t bring other family members along. Chaperones can’t leave students unattended and they can’t involve students in activities that haven’t been approved for the trip. They are responsible for monitoring student behavior on the trip–but not for disciplining students. That is something that only the educators on the trip can do.

Many policies adjust the number of chaperones depending on whether the trip is during the day or overnight, domestic or foreign. The going ratio seems to be one chaperone to every 20 students on day-time trips and one to 10 on overnights. On the most recent Camp Bernie trip, there were roughly 140 students and 70 parents.

The policies also emphasize that the role of the chaperone is to enforce the school’s existing code of conduct. Some, like this one from a district in a Milwaukee suburb, include a chaperone questionnaire and a signature acknowledging that the chaperone has read and agreed to the chaperone policy. In Milwaukee and elsewhere,  policies state that accompanying a school field trip is a privilege and not a right, and that parents who don’t follow the rules can be asked to leave–and be subject to prosecution.

But it is also interesting to see what has been left out: Very few policies mandate a criminal background check, which Verona currently requires for those who volunteer to coach Recreation Department programs. And when the New Jersey School Boards Association wrote a newsletter item about chaperones last year, it cautioned boards against issuing policies that they cannot enforce. There is a petition circulating in Verona now that calls for the BOE to ban the parents who caused problems on the Camp Bernie trip from being chaperones in the future. The BOE indicated at its last meeting that it was powerless to do so because it did not have a chaperone policy in place for the last trip.

There is no BOE meeting in July, but the board will reconvene in August before schools reopen.

 

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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]

11 COMMENTS

  1. As the NJSBA newsletter suggests, “after the trip there should always be a review that enables the district to determine the strengths and weakenesses of the trip. Many districts drop the ball on this.” If current Verona school policy exists with regards to Volunteers and it does not address “misbehavior and the role of Chaperones” including “volunteer substance use” then
    it may be a good idea to address this in policy, so in the future the BOE can act if such a situation (as occurred this year at Camp Bernie) presents itself.

  2. The more I think about it, I can’t believe how inept and ill-prepared the the school officials were regarding the Camp Bernie trip. The following is an email from the Vice Principal, Mr. Freund, after I asked him who was chaperoning the chaperons:

    From: Howard Freund
    Sent: Wed, May 2, 2012 8:21 am
    Subject: RE: Camp Bernie

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention- parent chaperones need stay with their children in the cabins. I will make sure that everyone is aware of this before the trip. We will be sending home another letter and will also have a meeting for the chaperones (the meeting is scheduled for Thursday 5/31). I’m not sure of the situation that you mention, I do know that we had a few dads chaperone their daughters last year and because they were not placed in their daughter’s cabins, they had the option of sleeping in a random boy cabin or going home for the night, so they may have chosen their car instead.

    Regards-
    Howard Freund

    You would think that after Verona was banned from Stokes State Forest for life, that the school and the BOE would have already put a chaperon policy in place. I have lost all confidence in the school ability to run a program like this…especially, Mr. Freunds ability since I brought a problem to his attention prior to the trip and he was unable to do anything about it. Just like the Stokes trip, this will be swept under the rug and to save face, a new policy will be presented, but it will never be enforced. It’s a shame that the school and the BOE are not standing up for the parents who (I’m pulling this from Verona’s report card) demonstrated “courtesy, cooperation, dependability, responsibility, respect, and care of School property” and will protect the parents who didn’t for a sports trophy.

    This story made Verona look really bad and the “official response” is making it look even worse.

  3. Valerie, after I published this story, Board of Education President John Quattrocchi sent me an e-mail noting that Verona does have a “Safety & Civility” regulation (#3516) which says that it is unacceptable for parents to enter school grounds under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

  4. Just so I’m not misunderstood, your follow up story is excellent. When I referenced the “story” in my last sentence, I meant what took place at Camp Bernie.

  5. Virginia,
    after reviewing the regulation 3516 , yes the regulation
    does state “it is unacceptable for parents to enter school grounds under the influence of drugs or alcohol”.
    But, the specifics addressed and the wording is not sufficient to enforce legally, with regards to such a situation as happened at Camp Bernie this year. Interpretation of this regulation , although it attempts to touch on volunteer use of alcohol and drugs on school grounds, would likely be insufficient should the BOE try to legally pursue any action against parent chaperones such as the”Camp Bernie” incident. The BOE should look to the NJSBA suggested guidlines , as mentioned in their
    Newsletter , and make appropriate additions to Policy in an effort to “cover all the bases”.

  6. Valerie,

    I am just curious why you would need adults to chaperone adults? Adults should set the example and this group of parents did not. You can’t blame the school official on this one.

  7. Hey Andrew,

    Well, apparently in Verona, you need adults to chaperon adults at a school function so they don’t throw a party, light fires, grilled food, leave the cabins and some children unattended even after they were given the rules at the chaperon meeting. Sorry for being so glib, but the reason I am so frustrated with the school is because apparently, this is not the first time something like this has happened and yet, the school never seems to know about what went on in the cabins. According to a Camp Bernie employee, Verona is the only school system that requests separate lodging accommodations for the teachers. Maybe that needs to change.

  8. It’s really disturbing that the school was essentially tipped off to the fact that some chaperones intended to leave their cabins and there was still no cabin check. I met with Mr. Freund the day after the children returned and let him know there were 3 chaperones and their sons who left my sons cabin somewhere around 11pm. It seemed to be no secret to the boys that there was a party planned for a select group of boys and their fathers, and it was no secret the next day when these boys talked about all the snacks and fires and staying up late. At that point I didn’t even know about the alcohol.

    My great concern was how this flagrant breaking of the rules was perceived among these boys. These are impressionable 11 yr olds who were just told by Mr. Freund that they were to go back to their assigned cabins, get ready for bed, no snacks, no fires, lights out at 11. But what really happened for these select boys was far different than that. There was an all out party, planned by non other than their fathers. What I stressed to Mr. Freund is that there are 2 different take-aways here. To the boys for whom the party was for, well, their fathers can break the rules and get away with it, pull one over on everyone, even the Vice Principal. And to the other boys? How is it that these fathers are breaking the rules at a school event and nothing is happening here? Why are they having a private little party at a school event? Who’s in charge here?

    As was mentioned in an earlier post, the administration is very lucky that they dodged a bullet with regards to something seriously going wrong. There are reports of one boy from the party waving a fiery torch running into another area of the cabin with children and chaperones. There were boys scheduled to sleep in the partying cabin, who were very scared as to what was going on outside with fathers drinking and boys running around shirtless. A father from a different wing found them in the common area (when they should have been in their rooms) and proceeded to get them somewhere safe to sleep where they wouldn’t come in contact with the drinking men. The asthma attack was a direct consequence of two chaperones leaving the cabin with their sons, never telling the other two chaperones where they were going. An hour later when these party chaperones never returned one boy started getting really nervous as to their whereabouts, thought they were MIA in the woods and proceeded to have a panic attack which went into an asthma attack. Does anyone wonder or care how these boys would perceive of a school camping trip in the future?

    I asked Mr. Freund to address the 5th grade boys and let them know that, 1) he knew about the party, 2) it was very wrong in many ways, and 3) it wouldn’t happen again. Most important was to let these young boys know that the school was on it, that the trip wasn’t completely undermined by these fathers who wanted something “better” for their boys and themselves.

    I also asked that a letter be sent out to all the 5th grade parents, to let them know what happened on the trip, in order that they could have a conversation with their kids about what they might have seen or heard.The letter went out. Mr. Freund and the administration did not feel the need to speak to the kids. They also have made it clear they feel no need to speak to any fathers about their behavior. What? Put a grown man on the spot for something he shouldn’t be doing? No, too much trouble there, the kids will eventually forget.

    So to all the 5th grade parents concerned about the example these “fathers” have put out there for the rest of our kids, for the influence they have over their own kids, we evidently need to be on top of what’s happening in this school, in this grade. Do you remember back in mid fall, early 5th grade? Mr. Freund gathered the 5th grade boys in the auditorium, gave them a little talk on bullying, said if it happened again there’d be suspensions? Talk to your kids and make sure you know what’s going on in the school because it’s highly questionable whether the school administration is straight with the parents on what’s going on there.

    To those that are defending this with the “it happens every year” defense? Baloney. Nothing happened last year. My son was there in a cabin with two of the biggest football players in the 6th grade and there was no party. Did it happen other years? Well someone needs to come out and tell us about it then. My burning question is why does your “special little club” have to have a party on a school funded trip? You can’t figure out how to arrange your own camping trip? Or is it because your kids need to be recognized as special 5th graders on this trip? Can’t they just be regular 5th graders with no party like the rest of our 5th graders? Donna BLAH, BLAH, are you understanding this?

    I wonder how you would defend yourselves to Officers Greco, Barry and Shafer? Just a few months ago these officers spent hours at HBW talking to every 5th grader about D.A.R.E. DOES ANYONE REMEMBER THAT? I would like to think that most of us can understand the difference between having an adult party in your home and bringing an adult party to a school function for 11 year olds. What you’re saying to these kids is that there’s no fun to be had if there’s no alcohol. Is that what you want to say to them?

    The majority of us are trying to raise our kids in a respectful, ethical, healthy way while teaching them how to make good decisions about their social lives as young adults. I really hope that the school and town administrators can support us in this need to be transparent and expect responsible behavior in our community outside of our own homes.

  9. I laughed so hard when I saw that because it was the perfect example of the intellectual ability of the people who found nothing wrong with the/their behavior during the Camp Bernie trip.

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