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A year after fatal field trip, Walcott ramps up trip regulations

With end-of–year excursions planned at many schools, the city has adopted new rules for field trips, particularly those that involve water.

The new regulations come nearly a year after Nicole Suriel, a sixth-grader at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering, drowned during a field trip to a Long Island beach. An investigation found that the school had not collected permission slips for the trip and took the students to a beach that was not patrolled by lifeguards.

Now, schools will have to collect Department of Education permission slips for each trip, ensure that lifeguards are present when students swim and that lifejackets are worn during other water activities, and send extra chaperones on trips with more than 30 students.

The new rules were developed during a review process that began after Suriel’s death, department officials said. Typically, the Panel for Educational Policy must approve new regulations before they can go into effect, but Chancellor Dennis Walcott decided that the field trip rules should be adopted immediately on an emergency basis.

“Tragically, last year we lost one of our students in an accident on a school field trip to the beach. While we can never change history, we can take action to prevent future tragedies and better protect our students on field trips,” Walcott said in a statement. “That is why today I signed an emergency order expanding supervision requirements for field trips and strengthening guidelines around swimming.”

The new regulations also clarify rules for international travel, the subject of a different investigation that concluded last summer. A lengthy investigation into a 2007 trip by Beacon High School students to Cuba, where travel is prohibited for U.S. citizens, found that only a single Beacon teacher accompanied the students and the group traveled without approval of Beacon’s principal or other city officials. The new rules require a minimum of two school staff members on international trips and also mandate that a school’s superintendent sign off on the destinations. The superintendent must review travel warnings for the country students will visit.

The rules have a budget angle, too: They require schools to fundraise for trips meant to celebrate, not educate.

The new rules could create some additional hurdles for schools planning field trips, but Walcott said they are not meant to cut down on the number of trips that students take. “I strongly believe field trips are a valuable part of our children’s education, exposing them to different experiences and environments than the classroom,” he said. “We want our students to get the most out of these experiences with safety in mind.”

The full set of new rules:

AMENDMENTS TO REGULATION OF THE CHANCELLOR Number: A-670 Subject: SCHOOL TRIP I. Description of the subject and purpose of the proposed item under consideration. Chancellor’s Regulation A-670 amends the prior version of the regulation, dated November 26, 2008. It has been adopted pursuant to an emergency declaration of the Chancellor pending vote by the Panel for Educational Policy. The amendments to the regulation are summarized as follows:

  • The Regulation clarifies who may serve as an adult supervisor for out of the city, overnight, and international trips and trips when students will be engaging in swimming and water based activities. (pp. 3-4, section II(D)(6))
  • The Regulation imposes new adult to student ratios for trips which involve swimming and/or water based activities. (p. 4, section II(D)(7))
  • The Regulation requires that prior to approving a trip, the principal/designee must ensure that a lifeguard will be on duty at all times when students are swimming. (p. 2, section II(A)(9))
  • The Regulation requires that schools use the appropriate consent forms attached to the Regulation for all school trips and that any modifications to the forms be approved by the Office of Legal Services. (p. 2, section II(C)(1))
  • The Regulation clarifies insurance and indemnification requirements. (p.6, section IV)
  • The Regulation clarifies requirements with respect to international trips and requires the following: (1) prior to approving a trip, the superintendent must determine whether there are any travel warnings or advisories for the country/countries the students will be visiting and, if there are such warnings or advisories, the superintendent must consult with the Deputy Senior Supervising Superintendent prior to approving the trip (p. 1, section II(A)(2)); (2) the Superintendent must ensure that every student and staff member has the appropriate documentation for travel to the country/countries being visited and for return to the United States (p. 1, section II(A)(4)); (3) the principal must ensure that at least one of the staff members accompanying the students on an international trip carries a phone with international service (p. 1, section II(A)(5)); and (4) that in addition to the two staff members required to accompany up to fifteen students, one other adult also must be included on the trip. (p. 4, section II(D)(6)(c))
  • The Regulation provides that for trips of a celebratory nature, schools must fundraise to meet the costs of the trip. (p.2, section II(A)(10))
  • The Regulation clarifies the fact that the Regulation does not apply to student exchange and homestay programs. (p.1, section II(A)(1))

The Regulation clarifies the fact that the Chancellor or his designee may waive the Regulation, or any portion thereof, if it is determined to be in the best interest of the school system. (p.6, section VI)