BRISTOL - As the Board of Education approved three European trips for Bristol Eastern High School students recently, Chairman Chris Wilson pointed to a recent court case as a reminder of the need to make students and parents aware of the potential risks of such trips abroad.
Wilson said he had been to a legal issues briefing recently through the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education that dealt with the case of Munn vs. Hotchkiss School.
The case concerned a 15- year-old student who went on a six-week trip to China with her schoolmates from The Hotchkiss School in Salisbury. During an excursion to a scenic mountain, the group went up a walkway but took a cable car back down.
“Three or four students decided that they wanted to walk so the instructor pointed to the walkway and moved on,” Wilson explained. “The students decided to go off the walkway, there were some temples to see, they got lost. They had to go through a bushwhack area, and they came back to the instructor with all kinds of bug bites.”
Typically that would be the end of it, but 10 days later the student woke up with flu-like symptoms and had to be rushed to a hospital. She was in a coma for a while and ended up with permanent impairments, he said. “She has no speech, very little hand action, just a terrible situation.”
Wilson noted that it turned out when Hotchkiss sent the students the notifications of the risks involved the link was broken. “No one ever told anybody it was broken, so the students never got the risk assessments for going to China and what the insect bite risks were.”
Her family sued the school in federal court, arguing that the school failed to warn them that she might come into contact with disease-bearing insects so she was not able to take adequate precautions. They were awarded $41.5 million in damages, which was upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court on appeal this past August.
Wilson said he and others spent a lot of time discussing best practices about such trips.
“It wasn’t like anybody was suggesting we don’t do school trips overseas but we also have to recognize that when we go overseas it’s a different standard,” he said.
He described how in the past he has been on trips with students to Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Antigua, though not through the Bristol schools, “and I can tell you on those trips we went on some excursions they wouldn’t allow us to go on here in the United States, in terms of the risk involved.”
“I as a group leader was very cautious,” he continued. “But we have to be especially careful with the waivers and notifications we provide and apply very prudent risk management practices when we go on these trips.”
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.