D.C. trip draws concerns

A mother, who said she was speaking on behalf of many other parents, brought concerns about an annual trip to Washington, D.C. before Wapakoneta City Schools Board of Education members this week.
“I don’t feel honesty and fairness is too much to ask from the district,” said Lara Sutton, a mother of three children who attend Wapakoneta City Schools.
Her concerns dealt with the inability of parents to chaperone the trip and the practice of using only staff members’ children to participate in demonstrations while they were there.
She asked that the participation policy be changed and that the rules and cost of chaperones be clearly addressed for all parents to access online.
Sutton said for years the policy of only allowing teachers and their spouses to chaperone the trip has been in place, but she felt strongly that it shouldn’t be the case as she believes students’ fees are being used to fund the chaperone’s trips.
Despite her requests for Superintendent Keith Horner to place a copy of the chaperone policy for the trip online, Sutton said other information about the trip was posted but the chaperone policy never appeared.
“It says that Brightspark pays for one chaperone per 10 students but ultimately the students (fees) are paying for it,” Sutton said. “I feel that should have been shared with parents years ago.”
Horner maintained his opinion that the issue was immaterial to him.
“If fewer go we are not charged more,” Horner said of the chaperone policy. “Different companies have the same procedure.”
Sutton also maintained her stance that student fees are being used to pay chaperones and therefore parents should be considered for the trip.
“I don’t agree with the policy to begin with,” Sutton said. “Other districts, other trips in this district don’t do it the same way.”
Trip coordinator Roger Heriott told the Wapakoneta Daily News earlier this year that none of the student fees are used to cover chaperone expenses and chaperones are typically selected from among Wapakoneta City School District employees and their spouses.
“While on this trip, it is considered a traveling school and students are expected to behave as such,” Herriott said. “Classroom teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and aides are all trained and experienced in dealing with large numbers of students. The spouses may be included as chaperones and are accountable to their district-employed husband or wife. This also assists with rooming assignments.”
Scheduled for Friday, Nov. 18, through Tuesday, Nov. 22, this year, the trip costs $639 per student, which includes everything except one lunch on the way to Gettysburg, Pa. More than 30 sites are included in the tour, five of which are by appointment only.
The cost of this year’s trip is $2 less than the cost of the 2010 trip, but there has been a decrease in enrollment despite the use of fundraisers to help pay for the trip.
Approximately half of Wapakoneta’s 230 eighth-graders had registered for the trip in July.
The district has sponsored the trip for more than 20 years and Herriott, the district’s technology coordinator, has served as the trip coordinator for 16 years, since his stepson was in the eighth-grade.
“The issue of fairness comes into play with the small number of participants chosen all being staff members’ kids,” Sutton said of special activities during the trip. “It’s blatant discrimination.”
While she was told the trip coordinator has chosen the participants in the past, she said going back at least the past three years all of those participants were the children of district staff members.
She said she had hoped e-mails sent to Horner beginning in the spring would have put the unfair practices to an end, but she came before school board members hoping for more answers.
“When we talk about public perception, this has a lot to do with that,” Sutton said of the district. “I’m not the only person who has had this issue. What I’m saying to you is the compilation of what many people have talked to me about.”
Horner said plans this year were to draw names from a hat to determine which students would participate in certain activities while on the trip.
Sutton said it was an idea she suggested in the spring, but she never heard back from Horner.