Public school teachers may resume traveling free as chaperones on educational field trips without running afoul of the Ethics Code, under an agreement announced today between the teachers’ union and the State Ethics Commission.
“We are very pleased to reach an agreement that will provide clarity to our teachers while allowing them to continue a longstanding practice,” Wilbert Holck, director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said today. “Our teachers always want to set a good example for their students. This agreement makes sure that our teachers are not only doing the best they can for their students, but are doing their jobs with the utmost integrity.”
The deal struck by the union and the commission allows teachers to plan trips with private companies and serve as chaperones as long as they abide by Board of Education policies, including a requirement that the travel has clear educational benefit for students.
In 2015 the Ethics Commission issued advice to teachers against organizing and promoting student trips with travel agencies and then traveling free as chaperones. The commission said the practice put teachers in a conflict of interest and violated the gifts law.
The teachers union filed suit over the issue and in June a judge invalidated the commission’s advice. Circuit Court Judge Rhonda Nishimura said the advice was not issued promptly and that in any case such advice was subject to rule-making and public input because it applied to a broad group, rather than an individual teacher.
Tour companies typically allow one chaperone to travel free for every eight to 10 travelers on a tour. This practice may now continue as long as teachers inform students and their families in advance that the teacher’s travel will be covered by the tour company. Teachers may accept no personal “perks,” such as tablet computers, and must give such items to the Department of Education for use in classrooms.
“Hawaii’s teachers work hard and exemplify integrity for their students every day,” Daniel Gluck, who became executive director of the Ethics Commission in August, said in a statement. “This agreement ensures that teachers can continue to provide invaluable travel opportunities for Hawaii’s students while demonstrating the highest ethical standards for their schools and the community.”