Some county school board members said Thursday they want to eliminate school-sponsored senior trips in the wake of a Signal Mountain High School excursion to the Bahamas in March in which seven faculty members got in trouble over alcohol issues.
Board member Rhonda Thurman, noting that some of the trips are taken when school is in session, said she only favors "one-day trips within Hamilton County." She said many seniors have reached 18 and can organize their own group trips.
Greg Martin, another board member, said the school system is taking on extra responsibility in approving such "fun" trips.
Scott Bennett, school attorney, agreed that the county schools are assuming liability issues when they sanction such trips. He said in such cases, "You are as responsible for what happens in Orlando, Fla., as you are on a school campus here."
He said other school boards he works for are not involved with senior trips.
Jeff Wilson, board member, said if the schools are going to cut out senior trips based on liability issues, "then we ought to just cut all the trips."
Board member George Ricks agreed, but he said he did not think the senior trips should be taken away. He said, "The seniors have earned that. They've been at school for 12 years."
Administrator Robert Sharpe said there are five applications pending for senior trips - from Brainerd High, CCA, CSAS, Hixson and Red Bank - all to Orlando. Last year, there were nine senior trips approved by the school board - all to Orlando except the Signal Mountain one.
He said the board has been carefully evaluating those trips and has not brought any to the board for its approval. He said, "We are looking very closely at them. We have a vetting process that is much more rigorous than in the past. We're hesitant to be quite honest with you."
Mr. Sharpe said the average cost of the trips is $516 per student. The cost is paid by fundraisers or by parents and/or students.
He said most are to Orlando. He stated, "Orlando has created a package. It has become quite an industry."
The wife of Mr. Sharpe and the wife of new board member Jonathan Welch were among the Signal teachers picking up suspensions over the Bahamas trip.
Supt. Rick Smith said he will propose a policy on senior trips at the school board meeting in November. It was noted that schools planning senior trips have already begun fundraising or are set to do so soon.
At the start of the work session discussion, he said, "I hope the discussion will not reflect on any school or community." In that vein, the Signal Mountain trip was not mentioned.