By Jessica Lovell
Parents and community members might want to step up to ensure that local kids get to go on class trips this year, but without teacher participation their good intentions are in vain.
“They can go along as volunteers, but they can’t plan and run the trip,” said public school board communications officer Maggie McFadzen.
With teachers withdrawing from extracurricular activities in protest of Bill 115, some parents are concerned that their kids won’t get to take part in some of the special school activities that have traditionally been part of the education experience – things like overnight trips to Ottawa and Quebec City.
The Upper Grand District School board has even taken the step of issuing lists of questions and answers to principals, “because our principals get questions about this all the time,” said McFadzen. Parents’ questions about field trips have been repeatedly coming up since the labour dispute began between the province and the teachers. The dispute has prompted teachers not to do extra work on their own time, like organizing field trips and heading up school clubs and teams.
Parents are offering to take up the slack, but the school board won’t allow them to do so.
“Most of the school boards in this province are counselling the principals that these things can’t go ahead unless a teacher is present,” said McFadzen. “A lot of it has to do with our insurance and our liability.”
Before the labour dispute, when it came to field trips “teachers organized these things and parents went along as volunteers,” McFadzen said.
But the uncertainty is “starting to wear on parents, especially at the elementary level,” she said.
The issue has been less of a concern at the high school level, where teachers reached a contract agreement with the board before the province’s Dec. 31, 2012, deadline, she said.
At the elementary level and in other boards in the province, the government put Bill 115 – also known as the Putting Students First Act – to work to impose a contract on teachers.
At the high school level, Guelph Collegiate is the only city school whose teachers are still protesting by boycotting extracurriculars.
Even if a community member wanted to coach a team – and the board does have some community coaches at the high school level – a teacher would still be needed, said McFadzen.
As well, the coach would have to be “credentialed at the secondary level” in order to coach a team in competitive high school sports, she said.
Teachers have the necessary credentials, she added.
At the elementary level, none of the long overnight field trips have been cancelled yet, because such trips typically happen at the end of the year and there is a chance they may still be able to carry on, said McFadzen.
“Of course the parents are worried, but we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
The board is asking principals to try to get extensions on payment dates, so that there is less chance they will have to issue refunds should trips be cancelled, she said.
For parents who are thinking about organizing a trip for their child’s class, the board has some rules.
For example, the school’s name or logo cannot be used; they cannot hold planning meetings at the school; they can’t distribute information associated with the trip through the school; they can’t have school staff involved; they can’t use school property as a pickup or drop-off point; and they have to purchase their own insurance.
“In order to associate anything with the school, we have to have a staff member involved,” said McFadzen.