New restrictions limit field trip opportunities

Occasionally getting students out of their usual surroundings for learning experiences is generally considered a good thing by the school board.

But students in Warren County School District are seeing their field trip opportunities diminishing.

Changes to laws about providing medical services to students have caused Warren County School District to restrict its field trips and to consider even more reductions.

The number of field trips has been dropping — from 400 in 2014-2015, to 355 in 2015-2016, to less than 330 last year, according to Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Rhonda Decker.

Still, “we’re talking about a significant number of field trips,” Decker said at Monday’s meeting of the curriculum, instruction, and technology committee.

Students are legally entitled to the same services while on field trips as they are in school.

Field trips, particularly trips that are not strictly educational, are not the only situations that require nurses or medical assistance aides, but they might be the most expendable.

“This isn’t a case of administration or the board being anti fun field trip,” Board Member Joe Colosimo said.

“We’re trying to remove the low-hanging fruit to make sure we can get our needs met,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said.

The “pool of certified individuals… is a barrier for us,” Director of Pupil Services Dr. Patricia Hawley said. “I don’t think it’s a nursing shortage in Warren County. I think it’s a nursing shortage bigger picture.”

The district is having trouble just having enough certified personnel for its buildings day-to-day, let alone finding people to send on field trips, Hawley said.

“Everybody’s giving the same story,” Stewart said of a recent discussion with Intermediate Unit 5 superintendents. “It’s becoming more difficult. Teachers used to administer meds on field trips. That’s not ok.”

The district has 41 students who receive some medication on a regular basis. Medicine can only be administered by medical professionals. There are another 24 students who have nursing services included in their individualized education plans (IEP). Another 10 students have their medical needs for the entire time they are away from their homes, including during transportation to and from school met on a daily basis by another provider contracted by the family. That helps the district, but if that practitioner contacts the district early in the morning to say he or she cannot work that day, the district has to find someone on short notice for the entire day, Hawley said. “We as a district are required to provide those services.”

Finding personnel willing to spend all day, often beyond the end of the school day, is not easy. “One of the most difficult times that we have is after-hours,” Stewart said.

Parents who volunteer to go along with their student can help, but legal changes require that the district employ that parent for that trip, Stewart said.

“We need to look at the rates that we’re paying” certified personnel — “see if we can entice people,” Stewart said. “There isn’t an entity that needs a nurse that isn’t struggling to get them right now. We have to be sure that we can hold down the fort and keep our needs met.”