Aruba Case a Reminder that Safety Always a Top Issue on School Trips

Kim Sklow remembers her high school days in New Jersey when students got to take trips to Florida for sports camp and go on other out-of-state adventures. Now a teacher at the school, she notes that things have changed dramatically.

"Trips like those are taken much less regularly now," said Sklow, a history teacher and veteran chaperone at the Dwight-Englewood School, a private school in Englewood, N.J. "It's a liability issue."

Other schools do allow trips to faraway destinations, seeing them as a valuable learning experience. In this age of growing safety and liability concerns, however, many administrators stress the importance of closely monitoring students - and making sure they understand that school rules also apply away from home.

The case of an Alabama teen who vanished in Aruba while on a graduation trip with more than 100 classmates has drawn attention to the topic of student trips.

School officials expressed alarm at the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, an 18-year-old from of Mountain Brook, Ala. Seven chaperones had accompanied the students.

"We owe it to our students to pay attention to these situations elsewhere and examine our own process," said Diane Dupuis, a spokeswoman at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, which includes a boarding school.

Jennifer Bialobok, a spokeswoman for Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Ill., said her school canceled overseas trips immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But those restrictions have since been loosened. She said it is most important that students know school rules are in effect on school trips, too.

"When kids are in France, it's not as though a kid can have a glass of wine," she said.

There is one school rule that some students are allowed to bend on trips, however. While many students are not allowed to have cell phones on during school hours, they often are encouraged to carry them during trips in case of emergency.

That was the case with Mollie Petersen, a 17-year-old who just finished her junior year at the Asheville School in Asheville, N.C., when she and classmates took a two-night trip to Charleston, S.C., last school year.

She said there were about eight chaperones to oversee 60 students, but the teenagers were given permission to go off by themselves, within certain limits. Though she thought Holloway's disappearance was unfortunate, she said it did not make her worried about future school trips.

"I feel safe with my group and feel I use good judgment," she said. "Our chaperones take good care of us."

Margo McDonough said the Aruba case does not make her more worried about her 15-year-old son's plan to travel to Germany this summer with the People to People global exchange program.

"I guess I am viewing that as a very unfortunate, isolated incident," McDonough, who lives in Landenberg, Pa., said of Holloway's disappearance. "On the other hand, something like a bombing or other act of terrorism in the countries (my son's) visiting certainly would make me anxious."