Home Local News WCASD superintendent mulls ending annual school camping trip

WCASD superintendent mulls ending annual school camping trip

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WEST GOSHEN >> Tears flowed freely and emotions ran high for many of 30 public speakers in an audience of about 150, at a meeting to discuss a West Chester Area School District decision to end school camping trips to Cape Henlopen, Tuesday night at Peirce Middle School.

Peirce seventh graders are the last of the district’s middle schoolers to take the camping trip to Delaware, a 49-year tradition.

Stetson Middle School ended a similar trip to the Poconos in 2017 and Fugett Middle School has not taken an overnight trip with the entire class for about a decade.

Kevin Cummings is a college student, former trip participant and counselor.


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With a tear in his eye, Cummings talked about a disabled student he thought might become an outcast and instead became a catalyst to bring students, counselors and teachers together.

“It all changed as the week progressed,” Cummings said. “We became closer than we could ever imagine.”

Cummings said he recently changed his college major from business to middle school math and science education because of his experiences at Henlopen.

Counselor Blake Baxter said he learned from a teacher that he would not be “less cool” if he chose not to take drugs, following a night spent looking at the stars and listening to a teacher.

“All I could think of was that night on the beach when the teacher said, ‘just say no.’”

Dave Baxter, Blake’s father, said the trip is a life-changing experience.

“I like to see a kid encouraged outside their comfort zone,” Dave Baxter said. “It was amazing to watch new friendships form without bounds — a new level of trust.”

Superintendent Dr. Jim Scanlon said he will make a final decision, without the input of a committee, on the future of the camping trip, within the next two weeks.

He suggested that those concerned contact him by Friday.

“Let me sift through, digest this,” Scanlon said. “This is going to be my decision.

“I have heard a lot of wonderful stories from parents and students.”

With a May 17 email blast, distributed by Dr. Sara Missett, director of secondary education, three reasons were given for discontinuing the trip:

• “The demands of our staff have continued to increase, as many of our students have a variety of medical issues that need to be closely monitored (asthma, allergies, etc.)” Missett wrote.

• It is becoming increasing difficult to find quality substitute teachers while teachers are away on the trip.

• “We have concerns about liability and responsibility that goes along with our staff supervising students overnight.” Missett wrote.

Scanlon said that allowing teachers to cook for students is a “lawsuit waiting to happen.

“While it is unfair, it is our reality,” Scanlon said.

The superintendent attempted to dispel several rumors concerning the 49-year tradition.

Canceling the trip is not a budget-based decision, he said. Parents pick up most of the cost.

It has been falsely reported that the trip does not match the school’s curriculum, according to Scanlon. When away, students study science, math, and develop writing and communication skills.

Not everyone wants to keep the trip. Some agree with the decision. During the past two years, 49 students did not attend.

Scanlon said the district has been fortunate, and just because there have been no liability issues and no complaints does not mean the district could not be held liable in the future.

Some believe the district is trying to take all the fun out of school, Scanlon said. The district has pushed back on standardized testing, encouraged students to participate in after-school activities and modified homework policies, Scanlon said.

Most districts have moved away from hosting overnight trips. High schoolers do participate on overnight trips, though they are only held via clubs and don’t include the entire class.

Why weren’t parents consulted?

“The reality is we make decisions every day without consulting parents,” Scanlon said. “They are done in the best interest of safety and operational considerations of the school district.”

Mother Tammy Hardgrave Ricciardi spoke on behalf of her son who participated this year. He suffers from food allergies and asthma. He brought all his own food.

She was “shocked” to see what she interpreted as children with allergies and asthma listed as a reason for canceling the trip. In turn, some peers blamed her son on the cancellation of the tradition.

“Children with food allergies and asthma are protected by the Americans with Disability Act,” she said. “I reached out to the Office of Civil Rights and was told that, ‘students with disabilities must be allowed to participate in all activities that are available for students without disabilities.’”

“I apologize if a statement like that came off as offensive,” Scanlon said. “It was not meant to be that way.”

A couple of online surveys were taken. More than 3,000 people responded to one survey and another with 949 responses showed that almost 90 percent of those who responded support the camping trip.

“There is a lot of passion,” Kim Kress said. “The survey shows that the community loves Henlopen — the focus is beneficial.”

Julie Pron said that education is only 50 percent academic and Laura Sacco said that trips with this type of educational experiences should be expanding.

“This is what the kids are going to remember,” Sacco said. “This makes for long-term memories and connections.”

Sophomore Elizabeth Brennen said she will study to become an astronomer because of the trip.

“Henlopen helped me realize how fascinating nature can be,” Brennen said.

Former camper Tim Leary said the trip builds culture and builds community.

“I never talked to anybody before this trip,” Leary said.

Everybody has a story about camp, otherwise they wouldn’t have shown Tuesday night, said a speaker.

“You don’t appreciate it as a kid, or until you know what you are losing,” he said.



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