The Board of Education agreed with Vice Chairman Frances Meeks’ recommendation to consider approving requests for student organizations to travel out of state on a case-by-case basis, to give them the opportunity to continue in a competition where they have won on the state level in a school sponsored activity. A formal vote on the first such case is slated to happen at their next meeting, May 19.
"I brought this up now because of the out of state competition for Odyssey of the Mind. I believe they will be asked about attending," Meeks said. "I think it’s time. This would be an answer to the community’s upset about children traveling out of state. On a case-by-case consideration, I think it could be a feasible thing."
Richmond Hill High School Principal Charles Spann said some of the Odyssey of the Mind students placed in the state competition and are likely be invited to the World Competition at the University of Maryland next month.
"I agree with this. We should have done it last year," Chairman Eddie Warren said, noting the school’s policy does not disallow out of state field trips.
Warren also noted some board members tried to get the issue on the board’s agenda last year.
"Last year, it seemed there were some board members trying to figure out how to not allow this, instead of looking at how we could make it possible," he said, noting he wasn’t sure where the change in mentality has come from.
Superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer recommended the board provide her with comments – and wait for the May meeting before taking an official vote. She provided board members with information from school district attorney Gerald Edinfield about the legalities and procedures associated with out of state travel.
Meeks said students would have to go through the proper channels – first getting permission from the principal. Then a request would go to Associate Superintendent James Oliver in regard to instructional purpose and it would continue to Brewer and Edinfield regarding legal issues before being presented to the board for final approval.
"They will need to know there are rules," Billy Mock said. "I think it's a good thing and serves an educational purpose. But they need to know it’s not just to get away from home and go wild."
Joe Pacenka had concerns about the wording excluding students who haven’t won a state competition.
"In particular, band is an example where there is not a statewide competition. It would be impossible for them to compete on the state level and then move on. But there could be instances where it would be beneficial for them to compete outside the state," he pointed out. "We need to decide how much to open this up to our students."
Warren said it will be important to let students who deserve it be considered and, if the funding is available, they "need to do it right and protect everyone."
Brewer said because trips are extracurricular, no tax dollars can be spent.
"They can ask their principal for funding, but their funding on the school level is spread out already," she said. "Students normally get some help from school and they have to fundraise the rest."
Mary Warnell pointed out that while the board cannot fund a trip, board members individually support students.
"It’s misinformation when people think we don’t support it," she said. "We don’t help as a board. We help personally."
Jeff Morton brought up an issue he said parents will probably raise: Chatham County reportedly paid for their team to go last year.
Brewer said the school cannot legally fund the trip.
"I don’t believe Chatham County is our standard for many things. The state audit department would not allow this," she said. "As much as I know the rules, we’re going to go by them. The rules say you don’t pay for a field trip with tax dollars, including SPLOST."
Warren said if the board was in agreement, they will support the Odyssey trip, and he wished they could have already done it last year.
"The board is only liable if you’re negligent and if we take the procedures to make sure they’ve cleared all their hurdles, that’s not being negligent. That’s us being prepared," he said. "The students can get started now and we can formally vote on this May 19. As long as they cooperate and accomplish everything they need to, we are all in agreeance that when it comes before us on an agenda, we will vote in favor of it."