February 2015: School Trips Policy Remarks

Delivered to the Policy Development and Review Committee at its February 2015 meeting.

Strictly speaking there is nothing in the Policy, that is to say the Principles, those created by the Governing Board of 2010, that prohibits travel outside the province by elementary school students. There is nothing prohibiting it either expressly or otherwise. What the Principles do say expressly is that we recognize the value of trips, and their contribution to the total development of students, and that they must be considered on their own merit. And further, that safety is essential and that every reasonable effort should be made to enable students to participate in trips. It says also, finally, that the Superintendent is authorized to issue Procedures in support of these Principles. It is, in fact, on Procedures that this particular situation turns, that situation being the travels of the Boys Honour Choir. It is with the Procedures that those involved take issue. In particular, the Preliminary Conditions.

That said there is nothing in the Procedures that is being unevenly or arbitrarily applied or used against applicants. It is very clear: School trips for elementary students, Primary to 6, are limited to Nova Scotia and this has been so since 2010. As made clear in the Report, one exception between 2012 and the present fell outside the trips allowed by the Procedures and it did so because, to quote, “there was a lack of policy knowledge” and “the supervisor was unfamiliar with the grade span of the students in the Boys Honour Choir.” It is unfortunate we do not have information predating 2012 and therefore no knowledge of whether there were other instances of lack of policy knowledge or unfamiliarity with grade span starting in 2010 but what we have is sufficient for the purpose. What we also know is that dating back to 1998 and the last Policy, “trips for elementary students were limited to within the province but that exceptions could be made by school administration.” That Guiding Statement and all language of an operational nature, namely the defining of grade spans and limits, was absorbed into Procedures in 2010 and it was from Procedures that the exception clause was removed. It is with Procedures and not Policy per se that the current issue appears to rest.

I mention this and parse it as closely as I do because this Policy is the Governing Board’s responsibility and the Policy seems good and sound. But the Procedures, the operationalizing of the Policy, are perhaps where things fall down. The Policy is very expansive and the Procedures possibly too restrictive, failing to adequately capture and reflect the spirit of the Policy. Exceptions, for instance, are something that would not only be appropriate within Procedures but would possibly more adequately reflect the spirit of the Policy.

We have been warned away from “exceptions” and “exemptions” to Policy because of the eroding effect they have on the strength and integrity of Policy but I would suggest it is not an exception or an exemption to Policy that we might possibly entertain tonight but rather an instruction to the Superintendent to consider an exception or exemption under Procedures on the grounds that they do not, as currently written, represent the full spirit of the Policy. The Policy is fine. It is the Procedures that need work. And it is within our purview as the Governing Board to direct the Superintendent to craft Procedures that more fully embody the Policy, our Policy, the Policy of the Governing Board of 2010, informed by the Principles of learning, development, safety, and accommodation. It is Policy, we are reminded time and time again, that the Governing Board is responsible for. And it is Policy that drives Procedure. It is for the Superintendent to align Procedures to Policy and the Principles it espouses.

I would suggest that what the current situation with the Choir requires and what the School Trips Policy overall requires is not improved wording or expression of its spirit but improved implementation.

I move that the Governing Board direct the Superintendent to revise Procedures to better align with spirit.

I move that the Governing Board direct the Superintendent to revisit the Procedures with an eye to accommodating the learning, development, and safety of the Boys Honour Choir.

I move, if necessary, that the School Trips Policy be placed under review for the revising of Procedures but that the Policy as it now reads remain intact.

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