In the wake of December’s terrorist attacks in the Rome and Vienna airports, and because of concern about adequate liability insurance, a growing number of school boards nationwide are postponing or canceling student trips abroad.
The threat of terrorism was highlighted again last week, in fact, when tourists in Paris’s popular downtown shopping areas were hurt in three separate bombings.
School committees in East Providence and Woonsocket, R.I., have withdrawn their consent for overseas student trips this winter, joining the ranks of schools that have made similar decisions in recent months. (See Education Week, Jan. 22, 1986, and Nov. 6, 1985.)
In addition, 7 of 40 schools that had signed up for January trips to Italy sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals expressed concern over student safety, although only one school decided to cancel the trip, according to Kathleen Driscoll Dunn, program manager for NASSP’S School Exchange Service.
State Department Advice
To ensure the safety of students participating in NASSP-sponsored exchange programs to Europe, Japan, and Central and South America, officials of the principals’ group follow the advice of the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory service and the embassies of the host countries, said Scott D. Thomson, executive director of NASSP. Thus far, the State Department and the embassies have not recommended against any student trips, he said.
The final decision is left to each school, Mr. Thomson said, but NASSP recommends that schools heed the State Department’s advice.
“They’re the experts,” Mr. Thomson said. “We can’t predict terrorism.”
In 1984-85 about 5,000 students participated in NASSP’s student and teacher exchanges, Mr. Thomson said, adding that it would be unfortunate if this year’s classes were deprived of the cultural experience.
Barring future terrorist activity, Mr. Thomson said he did not expect trips scheduled for this spring to be postponed or canceled.
Reduced liability-insurance coverage was cited as a factor in the decision last fall by Hamden, Conn., school officials to delay student trips to Germany and Canada indefinitely.
School officials must carefully read the fine print on their liability-insurance policies before sending students abroad, according to Richard Castallo, associate professor of education at State University College of New York at Cortland and a former school administrator.
Mr. Castallo, who surveyed 15 New York school systems about their insurance coverage for field trips, said many school districts have inadequate insurance to cover overseas travel. The survey results were reported in the December 1985 issue of the American School Board Journal.
In an interview last week, Mr. Castallo said the liability-insurance coverage for most of the schools surveyed did not extend beyond the borders of North America. The Mills (N.Y.) Union Free School District, where Mr. Castallo was an administrator for five years, was able to purchase a rider to expand coverage to include trip abroad, he said.
After checking with a number of insurance agents, Mr. Castallo found that school coverage varies widely and even schools that are “insured to their ears” may not have specific provisions to adequately cover travel.
“When your agent says you are covered for a million dollars, make sure you know if that is per student or for the whole group,” Mr. Castallo said.
Permission slips signed by parents and students that release the school district from liability are “not I worth the paper they are written on,” Mr. Castallo said. According to school-board lawyers, waivers would probably not be a viable legal defense in a liability suit, he said.
Ivan Gluckman, a lawyer for NASSP, agreed with Mr. Castallo that consent forms do not excuse the sponsor from liability. The courts have determined that due process cannot be waived, he said. Consent slips are useful, however, in informing parents and students about the risks of travel, Mr. Gluckman added.
Spokesmen for the National Association of State Boards of Education and the National School Boards Association said they had not been queried about the safety of student overseas travel and had developed no policies on the matter.
A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 1986 edition of Education Week