Last week, students from Johnson Elementary School in Watson Lake got lost in the bush.
They were only lost for a little over an hour, and everyone returned home safe and sound. But there was one little problem: the school didn’t ask for permission prior to the trip.
No permission slips were sent home, and the only phone calls notifying parents of the excursion and hike were made while the kids were already in transit.
And this isn’t the first time that teachers have endangered students by breaking school policy.
But, for at least one parent, this is the last straw.
Joe Bauer has two daughters attending the school and one of them was on last Monday’s ill-fated field trip.
That day, the school was given the opportunity to visit the Liard First Nation’s Cultural Camp and decided, at the last minute, to take the kids on a school trip.
School officials told superintendent Mike Woods parents had been told of the trip before students left.
But Bauer’s wife didn’t hear about the trip until noon.
“She was told, ‘If you don’t want them to go we can have them brought back in,’” said Bauer.
“Well, they’re already gone. It’s a little late for that.”
A permission slip was sent home after the trip was over.
“They tried to cover their butts by sending home a permission slip with the kids. At the end it said that at the beginning of the year you signed a global permission slip,” said Bauer.
“For most parents that gives permission to take the kids swimming, or to the Northern Lights Centre in town – not out of town, or into the bush, especially in the spring when there’s bears out there.”
The day trip wasn’t supposed to include anything dangerous – nothing more than learning to tan moose hides.
But, at the end of the day, there was some extra time, so a group decided to go on a hike around Two Mile Lake.
With three teachers acting as chaperones, 37 students walked into the bush.
Gradually, the group split into three, each with its own chaperone.
When they lost sight of the group in the lead, the other two groups decided to turn around and head back to the trailhead.
When the first group failed to show up, the principal was informed of the situation and the RCMP were alerted.
Four teachers went back out on the trail, two heading in each direction around the lake, eventually discovering the group, which had split up further.
“We’re reviewing the matter very seriously,” said Woods.
“They shouldn’t be going on a hike if it isn’t properly planned. We have protocols around these sorts of things – like hiking, biking, swimming and canoeing.”
Not only was there an ill-advised hike, but that the students were also swimming in the lake – without a qualified lifeguard on the scene, according to Bauer.
Without proper planning beforehand, the children came home wet and sunburned.
Teachers told students there was “no need to tell your parents. It’s no big deal,” said Bauer.
“And on Tuesday the principal visited each of the classrooms, telling them not to lie.”
Under no circumstances should something like that be happening, said Woods.
“At all times we want to be as transparent as possible,” he said.
“I have no information that a teacher told students that. It might be possible that there was some miscommunication. But we would never deliberately withhold information from parents.”
This isn’t the first time that school policies haven’t been followed.
Last year, a teacher picked up two hitchhikers while on a school trip.
According to Woods, these hitchhikers were only on the bus a very short time.
But according to Bauer, whose daughters were not on the trip, the hitchhikers were on the bus for a while, cursing in front of students.
Last night, school officials held a meeting with parents.
But there wasn’t a high turnout, said Bauer.
Only six families showed up and there were many parents who weren’t informed of the meeting.
They didn’t miss much though, according to Bauer, who described the meeting as “a smoke show, the same old song and dance.”
The school board already has strict protocols surrounding field trips, but will be working hard to ensure that all teachers, especially new teachers, are aware of them.
In the meantime, the school has cancelled all field trips, said Bauer.
“The kids are paying for the adults’ mistakes.”
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