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HSTA files Ethics Commission petition over chaperones on school trips

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The Hawaii State Teachers Association is challenging the Ethics Commission’s stance that public school teachers may not travel free as chaperones on students’ educational field trips that they organize with tour companies.

The union filed a “petition for a declaratory order” with the commission seeking clarification of the issue Wednesday, the same day the commission issued its latest advisory opinion, explaining why it believes the practice violates the Ethics Code.

“School trips provide students with educational lessons outside the classroom, and our teachers dedicate their own free time and resources to chaperone and offer valuable learning experiences during these trips,” HSTA president Corey Rosenlee said in announcing the petition. “We strongly feel the Ethics Commission incorrectly concluded that it would be a violation to allow teachers to accept free trips while serving as chaperones. The decision is wrong and will ultimately hurt and deprive our students.”

“Teachers dedicate personal time and resources to coordinate, chaperone and plan curriculum, often times supervising students in other cities and countries for 24 hours, for as long as the trip lasts,” he added. “The HSTA believes that the decision by the EC is detrimental to our students, and we are exploring all legal options including the filing of today’s petition.”

In an advisory opinion posted Wednesday on its website, the commission concluded that the longstanding practice of teachers working with tour companies to organize educational field trips and then traveling free as chaperones, courtesy of the tour company, violates several parts of the state ethics code. Many schools have cancelled field trips since Ethics Commission attorneys first issued advice on the subject in April.

In Wednesday’s opinion, the commissioners emphasized that the ethics code does not prohibit educational field trips or teachers serving as chaperones. But they said the way the trips are currently organized is problematic because teachers engage in “official action” vis-a-vis the tour companies and then accept a benefit or compensation.

“The state Ethics Code … prohibits teachers from accepting free travel and other benefits from tour companies for service as chaperones on students’ educational trips, where the teachers are directly involved in planning a trip and selecting a tour company to help organize the trip, promoting the trip to students and their parents, deciding who will chaperone the students, and/or requesting Department of Education approval of the trip,” the opinion said.

“The commission has offered to assist the DOE in reviewing policies and procedures to address the state Ethics Code concerns with the teachers’ acceptance of free travel and other benefits, including possible ways to fund the teachers’ travel for upcoming student educational trips,” it said.

The opinion was signed by Commission Chair Susan DeGuzman and the four other commissioners, who serve as volunteers. It was dated Aug. 19 but posted publicly Wednesday.

It may be read online at the commission website at ethics.hawaii.gov. 

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