Seattle Schools' Field Trip Procedures Update (Another Garfield Investigation)

In one of the stranger press releases I've ever seen come from SPS, comes this one today on field trips. 

It starts with this general district-wide information below:
In 2013, the district revised its field trip procedures and chaperone training requirements. School administrators were trained on these revisions during the summer of 2013. The field trip procedures and chaperone training requirements are being further reviewed this fall (2014) to reflect lessons learned.

We are taking the following steps to ensure the safety of our students on overnight field trips. Here’s what parents and staff need to know:

· There must be at least two chaperones on each trip of more than 6 students including at least one chaperone for every 10 students.

· We will not allow parent/teacher chaperones to bring their own younger children on the trip.

· We require 24/7 supervision with bed checks in the middle of the night.

· We require chaperones to maintain proximity to the students.

· Parents and students are required to sign off on the guidelines; including the understanding that violation of the field trip behavior requirements may result in the student being sent home.

· Lead chaperones are required to provide training to each of the chaperones on the trip. · Emergency procedures for the chaperones to report student or chaperone violations up the chain to security, the principal or the superintendent/designee as appropriate.

It appears that some things have changed.  For example, it's not even a matter of getting permission to bring any younger children on a trip, the district isn't allowing any chaperone to do it.  This was an issue on the Garfield trip.

It is also my understanding that no chaperone has to stay up all night: there are measures that can be taken to ensure bed checks periodically throughout the night.

I also note the "maintain proximity to the students" which, again, was an issue on the Garfield trip.

What is curious in the press release was also this:

*Please note, the district will not be doing interviews. The information below should provide adequate information.

Being a citizen-reporter, I actually have lots of questions but apparently I shouldn't ask them?   I'm supposing I can ask Communications but that statement above feels like, "don't call."

Then there is this letter from Garfield principal, Ted Howard:

December 12, 2014

Dear Garfield community,

As you know, student safety is a priority at our school and in the district.  I was recently made aware of a field trip (the Fall Survival 2014 outing) where coed teams shared designated sleeping areas. The district is going to conduct an investigation into this field trip to determine what happened and why coed sleeping arrangements were permitted. 

I want to reassure our families that we take any potential breech of policies and procedures very seriously. At this time, the district has not received any information regarding inappropriate and unsafe incidents during the field trip.

For more information on these policies and procedures, you can visit the district’s Title IX Compliance site:
Ted Howard
Garfield High School

Where to start?

It would seem policy got violated by having high school students in coed teams share sleeping space.  How did this happen and who are the tone-deaf Garfield organizers who let this happen?  

And ANOTHER investigation? 


mirmac1 said…
There's the 100 day communication plan in a nutshell: " No interviews. The information below should provide adequate information."
Anonymous said…
OMG! At what point do they figure it out? Am I old fashioned? Have coed overnights after Kindergarten become acceptable practice? (Waxing a bit hyperbolic, but not too far from where I draw the line.) How can a teacher in this building not know to not allow that to happen?
-Mom w/2 Daughters
Anonymous said…
An amusing typo in Mr. Howard's letter--breech instead of breach. When the issue is coed sleeping arrangements, you probably don't want to be talking about "breeches!"
Anonymous said…
I believe that we are talking about an Outdoor "formerly POST" field trip - they sleep outside - no sleeping bags and "survive" for a weekend. They are separated (boys on one side, girls on the other) but there are no walls.

Have we seriously reached the point that we believe our young people are incapable of sleeping within viewing distance of each (they are outside - like camping) without engaging in physical activities that are not acceptable on school trips? The chaperones are present at all times.

My teen (boy) responded with a "you have got to be kidding me". He has participated on both Survival and Advanced Survival.

-GHS Parent
Are the chaperones "present at all times?" I'd like to believe that.

GHS Parent, understand others' sensibilities. EVERY trip needs to conform to the rules (they are there for a reason).
Anonymous said…
Count me as another GHS parent whose understanding of the sleeping arrangements for this outdoor experience is that they are outside, in the woods, etc. Not exactly a place where anyone expects privacy, etc.

- Incredulous parent
Jet City mom said…
My daughter at a private prep school has attended lots of coed overnight field trips.
I don't think that kids nowadays were as sexcrazed as we were in the '70's.
Violation of a rule, if it is important enough to be stated, is important enough to be followed.
There should be no MAY be sent home about it. If they break a rule, they have to be released to a parent or guardian.
Lynn said…
I understand why people aren't thrilled about this - but I can't find any rule that was broken. If we don't want coed campouts going on, we might need a new rule.
Anonymous said…
I went on a ton of overnight (extracurricular activity) trips in high school where there were no bed checks and fewer adult chaperones.

I would not agree to be a parent chaperone where I was really viewed, as it seems, as responsible for making sure that no kids could possibly get out of their hotel rooms ever. Is this consistent with what chaperones have been expected to do so far? What happens if a teen leaves the room on my watch as a chaperone?

--future GHS parent
Anonymous said…
Let's end all co-ed trips of all types and make it like O'Dea and Holy Names.

Everybody knows Catholic kids don't mess around until they're married, right?

Catholic Bastard
cmj said…
*Please note, the district will not be doing interviews. The information below should provide adequate information.

Excellent job on your communication plan, SPS! Oh, I'm sorry, that was sarcasm. Nothing says "we don't care about your opinions or concerns" like preemptively refusing interviews. What's wrong with politely declining to comment when a reporter calls you? Alternatively, nothing says "we have something to hide" like a public office preemptively refusing interviews.

I am very glad to see an increased push to enforce the rules during field trips and to send students home if they disobey the rules. I doubt that the teens were breaking (or deliberately breaking) any rules here, but it's still good to see that emphasis.

Does anyone know how far apart the boys and girls were? Ten feet and I'm a little concerned. Fifty feet and I think that's very safe.

Catholic Bastard, I don't believe that the schools are trying so much to prevent students from having sex (SPS doesn't use abstinence-only sex ed), but to make sure they they're not having sex at school or on school trips, where the school is legally responsible for them.
Jet City mom said…
Are they as concerned about bullying and other assaults as they are about consensual contact?
Lynn, I thought the rule was no co-ed sleeping arrangements - no cabin, no tents. If not, it probably should be a rule.

C'mon, no one can guarantee a clever teen(s) won't figure something out. BUT you have a procedure and you follow it. That should cover most of it and then the onus is on the teen.

Anonymous said…
Presumably Ted Howard or another GHS administrator signed off on the trip. The chaperone/sleeping arrangements should have been made clear in the approved field trip planning documents.Now Ted Howard calls for an investigation of coed sleeping arrangements on a trip he signed off on?

Anonymous said…
I'm not absolutely sure, but I believe the Garfield POST/Outdoor Survival trips do not involve any indoor sleeping - no tents OR cabins - and often times directly in the cold and rain. They sleep *outside.* (I know, not for me either.) Thus, the line between single sex and co-ed sleeping is fuzzy. I'm fine with it being investigated, but it seems suspiciously overblown to me.

- Incredulous Parent
Eric B said…
My first thought on seeing this story was something we say at the office: Every time you make something idiot-proof, they build a better idiot. How could GHS be getting into another field trip scandal with co-ed sleeping arrangements?

Recognizing that it's a survival thing with the students sleeping with no tents, it raises another question. Why is the District investigating? The only way an investigation could be required is if somebody wasn't in the loop about the field trip procedures. One would have thought that with all of the other PR disasters around field trips at GHS, any field trip with odd sleeping arrangements would be signed off in triplicate by everyone up to the superintendent. There'd be no need for an investigation because the whole thing would have been so thoroughly vetted ahead of time that they could just drop the reports on the desk.

One would have thought. So did JSCEE know that the trip had unusual sleeping arrangements where they couldn't provide separate areas (no tents)? If so, who'd investigating and why weren't they in the loop ahead of time? If not, how did this get approved without JSCEE involvement?

My questions about the trip itself are more around hypothermia safety than student misconduct. Do the sleeping bags have waterproof covers if they're just out in the rain or snow with no tent?
Anonymous said…
Howard's best talent appears to be writing CYA memos, not thinking ahead and handling problems before they start. How is it possible after this past fall that this issue is making headlines *AT GARFIELD* again? If the dude had real oversight he would have seen this proposed trip didn't quite fit the bill of the newly enforced rules and either changed the trip, or gotten signoff up the ladder, and additional communication within the school community BEFORE the trip.

What a dumbo tempest when there didn't need to be an incident at all with proper planning. So tired of him and his 'leadership'.

"I'm fine with it being investigated, but it seems suspiciously overblown to me."

So that seems to be contradictory. Are you say investigate but don't make it public or what?

Again, if Howard or the district said, "this was such and such trip where students traditionally sleep out in the open but we're checking to make sure all overnight field trip procedures were followed," it sure wouldn't be such a big deal.

I did ask about the rule about co-ed sleeping arrangements and was told that was part of the investigation. I'm still not sure the status of that issue for overnight field trips.

Anonymous said…
This is absurd. Students will be subject to risks unless teachers, principals, and others are disciplined. The district didn't discipline teachers and the principals, etc. when the student was raped in 2012-- so anyone can ignore their responsibilities without experiencing consequences??? Let's make new rules so we don't have to enforce the existing rules?

Why do we allow this?

Anonymous said…
ERIC--agreed. SPS can't investigate itself. The district's investigations of the 2012 rape posted online show that its investigations are biased.

Were parents fully informed about the trip?

not in denial
Anonymous said…
From Ted Howard's letter: "I was recently made aware of a field trip (the Fall Survival 2014 outing) where coed teams shared designated sleeping areas. The district is going to conduct an investigation into this field trip to determine what happened and why coed sleeping arrangements were permitted."

Wait, wasn't he aware of the field trip BEFORE it happened? And isn't HE the one who permitted it? I don't know anything about the trip and whether it complied with policy or not, but his apparent lack of awareness is disturbing.

Half Full
Anonymous said…
There is no way that Ted Howard didn't know about this trip beforehand - this trip has been going on for YEARS - the same trip, the same arrangements and literally generations of kids at Garfield have taken part.

It is one of the most rewarding field trips at the school - even kids who are not "outdoor" kids enjoy the experience and come away with the feeling that they have succeeded at something that they thought they could never do. It is truly fantastic.

The staff for this club, along with the parent/staff coordinators have jumped through 1,000 hoops this year to comply with all the new procedures - although I am not sure that the "co-ed" sleeping out in the woods even occurred to them based on how the trip works - there are literally people up all night making the rounds and checking on students to make sure they are ok. At no point is 100% of the staff asleep.

It sounds to me like Ted Howard just wants to get rid of every field trip so he doesn't have to deal with it That would be a terrible loss to the culture at Garfield.

I'm trying to figure out if this came about through a complaint by someone on the trip or by Garfield Administration? So confused...

-GHS Parent
Anonymous said…
incredulous parent--do you mean they need privacy to have sex? the rape at the nature camp happened with people in the same room. . . .

times have changed. . . .

mother of adult
Anonymous said…
If the sleeping arrangements were approved for this type of field trip, then I don't understand what happened on the trip that prompted Ted Howard to send this message to GHS parents. Did a student or parent complain? Or is it just CYA? Obviously there are no public facts yet.

Anonymous said…
Just reading through the comments and people are all over the place with opinions on overnight trip and sleeping arrangement. Some parents are good, others are not. Some want more guarantees, more security, more partition. Others pointing out it's an outdoor/ survival FT without tents. Probably no separate boy/girl bathrooms either. I just don't see an endpoint here.

Until I read about the 145 murdered Pakistani students and staff.

small world
Lynn said…
small world,

Were you looking for the Tuesday open thread?
Anonymous said…
You can fence off every pond & pool in the world. Or, you can just teach your kids to swim. WSDWG
Anonymous said…
you can teach your kids to swim until some monster holds her down under the water and there's no lifeguard around.

realist with experience
Anonymous said…
There's no such thing as monsters, realist. It's always humans who do bad things.

If you're referring to the 2012 incident, there were many life guards around, but nobody asked for help.

Innocent people get attacked everyday by perfect strangers and there's only so much we can do to protect ourselves against such things. But that's not what we're talking about on overnight field trips. WSDWG
Anonymous said…
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