The Surrey school district is looking at reworking policies around students travelling on extended field studies after the COVID-19 pandemic upended dozens of school trips last year.
“With such a significant world event comes the need to pause and adjust how the district facilitates and supports extended field studies moving forward,” according to a presentation to the Surrey Board of Education from assistant superintendents Andrew Holland and Lynda Reeve during its Feb. 10 meeting.
Superintendent Jordan Tinney said it has been an “extraordinary” year after there were orders to close the borders last spring.
“We had many students in transit at the time as part of an ongoing series of programs that everyone knows in the district. Students travel overseas very often.”
With a moratorium on student travel, Tinney added it’s a good time to review the policies.
The district defines extended field studies as “involving absences from the Lower Mainland for more than 3 consecutive days, higher risk activities or international travel.” The district said schools participate in about 60 extended field studies involving international travel each year.
However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school district had to cancel 53 field study trips.
At the beginning of March 2020, the district initially cancelled all trips to Italy, Japan and France as those were some of the hardest-hit countries at the beginning of the pandemic. Within two weeks, the district had cancelled all remaining international trips for the year.
Reeve said some students had already left on overseas trips before the orders were put in place last March.
She pointed to Earl Marriott Secondary students who were in England “as the world was literally shutting down around them.”
“I have to also say that had it not been a really experienced teacher, I may not have had the same experience and confidence in what was happening with our students so very far away,” said Reeve, adding the teacher was in contact with the school district staff and parents daily.
While the district says it already has “significant” policies and regulations in place, the proposed changes are intended to increase safety for staff and students and the district’s ability to respond to emergencies.
One of the proposed changes is that all extended field studies involving out-of-province travel or air travel would be arranged through the the district’s pre-approved travel service providers. The district says that would add a level of protection, all for the district to work with companies who can respond in the event of an emergency and all for consistency of contract terms and conditions.
The district is also proposing that all participants purchase trip-cancellation insurance as part of the cost of the trip.
When the district cancelled trips last year, staff had to work with travel partners and families to work out travel insurance.
Holland said staff wasn’t looking for any decisions from the board of education yet, but it was just to update for now.
Trustees said they would review the presentation and come back with any questions at a later date.