More Stringent DCPS Policy Requires Case-by-Case Approval of Field Trips
Credits: Jessie Moss
School Without Walls has long prided itself on students’ ability to easily participate in off-campus activities. A revamped DCPS field trip policy presents additional hurdles for planning excursions outside the building, potentially challenging that easy access.
Like the old policy, field trips still must be approved by school administration, but each trip will also face individual approval by the DCPS central office, a potentially lengthy process. The new policy keeps the requirement that all off-campus trips have at least one DCPS background-checked sponsor.
DCPS representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the goals and details of the change.
Health and physical education teacher Cory Matthews said that the policy will have many benefits. Under the new system, all field trips are digitally tracked, allowing schools to better account for their students’ whereabouts.
“Everyone will know where the students are if a disaster or emergency were to take place,” Mr. Matthews said. “The major change in effectiveness with the new and old system is that now it’s digital, instead of on paper. Now
we have a better checks and balances system to keep everyone safe and aware if something were to happen.”
However, the new policy’s additional barriers to field trips come on top of existing hurdles: For one, the DCPS background-check process for sponsors has always come with complications. Marielle Cornes, the Walls speech and debate coach, said, “My background check took about six months. I had to put in an application to DCPS for clearance…I had to get fingerprinted, and I had to get drug-tested.” She said the process was so lengthy not because of any delays on her part, “but because they were unresponsive and unclear about which forms I
was supposed to fill out.”
These delays could create challenges for chaperones who need to be quickly background-checked, according to Ms. Cornes. She said that while background checks for employees and coaches are important, mandating them for “every possible chaperone would only create issues” in her view.
The need for DCPS to individually approve every field trip could limit teachers’ ability to sponsor spontaneous field trips. Many teachers find being able to travel off-campus hugely important, especially as Walls is an urban school.
Mr. Mathews said that he understands needing to fill out a form for “longer distances,” but said, “I regularly take my classes out of the building … if a field trip is within our class period and does not affect other classes, it should be fine.”
For Ms. Cornes and the debate team, off-campus trips are almost always longer distances. She said, “Especially because we are not in control of the dates of when we travel —- that’s determined by the tournament — if DCPS has delays or does not get clearance back to us before the preset [tournament] date, it will inhibit us from being able to go.”
This policy is especially pertinent for Walls since the school has always maintained a strong connection to the city. “The Walls ideology for me is ‘the world is our classroom,’ Mr. Matthews said. “There’s a lot of things you learn within the classroom, but there are so many different museums, programs, and activities that happen outside the School Without Walls.”
Ms. Cornes added that many field trips for the debate team are “school-sponsored academic events.” Inhibiting travel, she said, “is only harming the students.”
The Walls administration declined to comment on the new policy and how it will affect Walls.
“We’re still in the first [few] weeks of the system,” Mr. Matthews said. “I think there will be a learning curve with the system and some complications with it, but I think it’ll work.”