Field trip talk turns to pot at LCUSD school board meeting

La Cañada Unified School District officials examined their field trip supervision guidelines Tuesday night after learning that more than one student participating in La Cañada High School's annual trip to Yosemite National Park in February was caught in possession of marijuana.

Discussion on the matter arose during a first reading item of the details of next year's trip, planned for February 2015, during which 46 students will explore parts of the park through the science education program Nature Bridge.

LCHS English teacher Tracey Calhoun, who oversees the trip with science teacher Tom Traeger, explained the incident that occurred in February.

"Kids break rules every year, as kids will do" Calhoun said, describing curfew infractions and the like. "(But) we had some students this year who were caught in possession of illegal drugs."

One of the students was over 18 and allegedly had a valid California medical marijuana card that is not recognized as legal in a federally maintained national park.

The teacher pointed out the need for more chaperons next year and explained that at least two students who were allowed to participate in the trip had earlier been placed on a "no-go" list barring them from attending senior activities. She said the application for next year's program requires students have a 12-month clean disciplinary record.

Money was an issue, Calhoun admitted.

"We were in a bit of a bind — we'd already said yes to these students (and) to say no to them would have meant providing refunds ahead of the trip that we couldn't afford, because we'd committed to the larger number," Calhoun told the board.

"It was a risk that we shouldn't have taken," she said, explaining her reluctance to default on the account.

According to LCUSD documents pertaining to this year's trip, 55 students were to pay $760 each to participate in the four-day trip, which was chaperoned by five teachers.

By comparison, the 2015 trip would be limited to 46 students participating with five teachers and two additional parents in attendance. Calhoun expressed her hope that having parents in attendance would be more of a deterrent to troublesome behavior.

Board member Kaitzer Puglia said she completely validated the value of experiential learning, but wanted to know how any new guidelines would be communicated.

"What is the dialogue and discussion been amongst faculty and administrators in regard to how that's going to be accomplished to ensure students get the message before they even get on the bus?" she asked.

Calhoun said the new application will be more rigorous, requiring a letter of recommendation from a teacher and mandating students sign one of two behavior contracts tailored for students under and over age 18.

"We need to look seriously at what the gaps were in our program, in terms of supervision, in terms of selection, and make sure this doesn't happen next year," she said. "If any of these (new) rules are broken, they're going home at the cost of the family, and there's no questions asked about that."

Reporter Michael Bruer contributed to this report.


Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.


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