Mar 07, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
As a group of 27 students and four chaperones from Cazenovia High School were six hours into their flight to Lima, Peru, on Feb. 13 for a winter recess trip, the school district received an email from the U.S. State Department that terrorist groups had threatened to kidnap Americans traveling in the exact locations the school group intended to visit.
The ultimately revised trip itinerary led to hours of free “down time” for the students that one parent claimed resulted in a severe lack of supervision to the point of possible negligence and child endangerment, considering the terror threats in the region that caused the schedule changes.
Additionally, this accused chaperone neglect is being blamed for a group of the traveling students getting caught with alcohol on the trip, resulting in their suspension from school for five days.
Parent Sarah Webster told the Cazenovia Board of Education at its Feb. 25 meeting that she believes there are “extenuating circumstances” as to why the alcohol incident happened — namely a lack of adult supervision — that is only one part of an overall negligence and liability issue facing the school district.
“There are serious issues here of negligence and endangerment, and everyone should be happy it was only alcohol,” Webster said at the meeting. “I’d like assurances something will be done.”
The school trip to Peru, which occurred from Feb. 13 to 20, was centered in the capital city of Lima with trips scheduled to some of the major tourist sites such as the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Cusco. While the group was en route to Peru, the district was notified by the state department late on the evening of Feb. 14 that the terrorist threats against American citizens was credible and district administrators immediately met to discuss the issue, said Superintendent Bob Dubik. He instructed the group to remain in Lima during Friday, Feb. 15, while administrators met with parents and decided what to do.
“We called every parent and at 9 a.m. Friday morning we had a meeting to discuss our options, which were to continue the planned itinerary, bring the students back immediately or alter the itinerary,” Dubik said.
The administrators and parents decided to continue the planned itinerary “with modifications,” but, after receiving mixed messages from the state department about the safety hazards in the region, Dubik decided to overrule the group decision and instructed the chaperones to create an alternate itinerary that did not include visits to the major tourist sites that had been threatened, he said.
“It’s not what we expected, and certainly not what we wanted, but by avoiding those destinations but staying in Peru, the students were still able to experience the culture of another country,” Dubik said. “We made the best out of the situation that we could, short of coming home. I just wasn’t willing to take the chance.”
He said that while many of the parents were disappointed in the changes, they understood his position and his decision.
During the trip, the students stayed in Lima and surrounding areas that were not threatened, and the students were never in any immediate danger, he said. He also said that having four chaperones (two male and two female) for 27 students was a better ratio than the school policy calls for, which is typically one chaperone for every 10 students.
Some parents who attended the school board’s Feb. 25 meeting, however, declared their disappointment with the trip, stating that the extra free time in Lima left the students at the hotel, at the hotel pool, nearby soccer field or spending hours at the local outdoor market unsupervised, or poorly supervised, which still was hazardous.
Webster, whose son was on the trip, said during one day the students were left in the outdoor market “by themselves” for four-and-a-half hours. The market, she said, was the same length as from the Cazenovia pier to the Sunoco station.
“That market presented all sorts of opportunities available to anyone,” Webster said, adding that it was packed with people that day and “there was no possible line of sight” between the chaperones and the students.
Sharon Stoker, whose daughter was on the trip, also expressed her disappointment at the lack of supervision.
“My biggest concern is that they were safe,” she said. “This [terrorist threat] should have been looked into before the trip occurred.”
Stoker did, however, “applaud” Dubik for changing the trip itinerary once the district was informed of the terrorist threat by the state department.
Bindy Dain, whose daughter was on the trip, said that while she was “very upset” that the students did not get to visit all the sites they had planned, she felt the students still had a valuable time experiencing a new culture. “They learned how to roll with the changes; sometimes this happens,” she said. “This is something kids have to learn as they get older. I understand there’s an issue, but for what happened on this trip they were afforded a different experience that was equally as valuable.”
As for the alcohol incident on the trip and the automatic five-day suspension for the five students involved, Dubik said it was not a matter of supervision but of the students breaking school rules. He said the district’s code of conduct clearly states that any student found in possession of, under the influence of, consumption, sharing, selling and/or distributing alcohol on school grounds, on a school bus or at a school-related activity or event will be suspended immediately for five days pending a superintendent’s hearing.
“I’m sorry this happened … but there are rules and the expectations are that [students] follow the rules,” he said.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.