Critical Safety Measures for School Field Trips

Education, Property & Casualty, Risk

As spring draws near, the anticipation of field trips heightens among students and staff. Off-site field trips are an important and interactive component of every school curriculum. Whether your school is spending a day at the zoo, taking a trip across the country, or flying overseas, several safety and security controls must be addressed to ensure the focus can stay on the learning experience.

General Field Trip Safety Measures

Every successful field trip starts with an approved plan. Ensure that a detailed description of the activity, the group, travel arrangements, and supervision controls are approved by the school administration. Here are a few considerations to be used in developing the plan.

Utilize permission slips and waivers for all field trips

Children under the age of 18 must have a parent/guardian sign a legal permission slip stating that they accept the child’s participation in the field trip. Students of the age of 18 and older must sign a waiver stating they accept full responsibility for their actions and legal implications of their participation in the field trip. The permission slips and waivers should be indefinitely maintained by the school.

Maintain and utilize an ongoing attendance list

Develop an attendance list of each child that is checked periodically during the field trip. Pay special attention when getting on and off the bus and take attendance periodically during the field trip. You never want to forget a child at the museum and realize your mistake when you get back to school.

Only use district approved transportation

Avoid using volunteers or personal vehicles to transport children. Self transportation by students should not be allowed by the school district.

Ensure that adequate supervision is provided for all field trips

Pre-approved adult supervision (chaperones) must be present at all field trip events. If your event includes an overnight stay, ensure that references and background checks have been conducted on all chaperones. The age and number of children will dictate the number of chaperones. A good rule is to have one adult chaperone for every three to five kids.

The number of chaperones may increase depending on the complexity of the field trip. A group of children walking through a museum may require only 1-2 chaperones; conversely, the number of children at an amusement park may require more chaperones.

Dress your chaperones in easily identifiable clothing. Wear brightly colored windbreakers or orange vests so children can easily identify the chaperones of their group. Additionally, easily identifiable supervisors deter strangers from interacting with children.

Ensure that chaperones are prepared for emergencies

Consider carrying walkie-talkies or cell phones. Make sure chaperones know the phone numbers of the other chaperones, the school’s main office, and the phone numbers of other important contacts. Know where and how to access the nearest medical facility. Be able to quickly assemble as a group and take a head count if necessary.

Ensure that a basic first aid kit is available. You may not be able to prevent every injury on a field trip but having a first aid kit available may minimize the injury.

Require participants to wear proper attire on field trips

This may include rain gear, appropriate cold/warm weather clothing, or sunscreen. Don’t allow children to wear open-toed shoes such as flip-flops or sandals.

Develop controls to keep your group together

Especially important with small children, ideas such as a colored rope which all children must hold on to or large easily identifiable signs should be used.

Review field trip rules prior to the activity

Require each student to read and sign a rules contract prior to the activity. Basic rules such as staying with the group, listening to the chaperone, not talking or leaving with strangers, and what to do in case of an emergency should be reviewed.

Teach children the basic ‘stranger danger’ controls. Before and during the field trip, educate the children on the potential dangers of talking and interacting with strangers. Children should understand that they are only to talk with their field trip chaperones or police officers in uniform.

The chance of a child abduction increases in large public areas where there are a lot of people present and the chaperone could lose sight of a child.

Develop and implement strict controls for overnight stays

If male and female students are present, male and female chaperones should be present. If both male and female participants are involved, they must be placed in separate rooms at distinct locations within the hotel.

Always request non-adjoining rooms – no shared doorways between rooms. Additionally, a ‘lights out’ time should be determined and enforced. Chaperones should conduct nightly bed checks of all participants.

Field trip pick up and drop off controls should be developed

Parents/guardians should be responsible to pick up and drop off their children. Do not allow other parents or friends to transport children unless permission has been provided in writing to the school office.

Pick up and drop off areas should always be in a well lit, public area. If a number of students leave an event together, ensure that there are only as many students as there are seatbelts available. A chaperone or activity coordinator should remain onsite until all students have been safely picked up by a parent/guardian.

Maintain a list of parent/guardian phone numbers and call them if they are late in picking up their children. Never make the decision to drive a child home.

Charter Bus Trip Safety Measures

Check that your transportation will be safe

When utilizing charter transportation for trips, ensure the school district has checked and verified the assigned driver’s credentials.

The school district must verify that the driver assigned to the trip is the same driver who reports for duty on the day of trip departure. Don’t be afraid to ask for driver verification credentials.

Prior to the chartered trip, chaperones should review the safety controls. Supervision is key. Chaperones and group leaders should spread out throughout the bus. Additionally, chaperones and group leaders should wear clothing or a brightly colored armband that identifies them as supervisors.

Review the charter bus companies’ safety records and ensure that they maintain appropriate levels of liability insurance.

Oversea Travel Safety Measures

Planning the trip

Know what paperwork is required and have all of it prepared far in advance. Make sure all travelers have a signed, valid passport and visas if required. Students and trip chaperones and group leaders should always fill in the emergency information page of their passport.

All trip attendees should make copies of their passport’s data page and any visas. A copy should be kept on file with the school and for students a copy should be kept at home with their parents in the event that a passport is lost or stolen.

Appropriate release forms should be obtained from all students. Consider holding a mandatory attendance meeting for parents to answer questions, review trip concerns, and sign release forms.

Overseas trips include an entirely new set of preparations to be mindful of in addition to general field trip concerns due to differences in culture. Before departing for a trip overseas, perform research about the people and their culture, and encourage students to learn as much as possible about the countries in which they plan to travel.

It is also a good idea to research any problems that the country may be experiencing that could affect travel plans. Examples of this would be civil unrest, anti-American protests, etc. It is important to avoid demonstrations, civil disturbances, and other situations that may become unruly or where anti-American sentiments may be expressed. Visit the U.S. State Department website for current government travel warnings:

Instruct students what is and isn’t allowed in the countries you are visiting. Keep in mind that when you are in a foreign country, you are subject to their laws. Become familiar with the basic laws and customs of the country you plan to visit before you travel.

It is also a good idea to determine the location of the nearest United States embassy and consulate where you are traveling or staying.

In case of emergency

All chaperones and group leaders must be aware of emergency procedures and communications. Maintain a list of emergency phone numbers; know where the closest medical facilities are and how to contact them.

Make sure insurance coverage is in place that will cover emergency medical needs while traveling overseas. Every year, many students become ill or suffer injuries overseas. Students must have medical insurance and medical evacuation insurance that would cover a medical emergency abroad.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website at Educate yourself regarding any illness or outbreaks of concern for the countries you are visiting.

Avoid being victims of crime

  • Instruct everyone in your group to never leave luggage unattended in public areas.
  • Instruct everyone in your group to never accept or transport packages from strangers.
  • Do not become an easy target for thieves by wearing conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry when traveling overseas.
  • Instruct your group not to carry large amounts of cash or unnecessary credit cards.
  • Cash and other valuables should be carried in the front pockets of your pants.
  • Students should refrain from carrying purses that can be easily ripped away.

Field trips are a fun and valuable part of your student’s educational experience. When planned with the appropriate safety controls in mind, you and your administration will have peace of mind. If you would like additional information on this topic, please contact your M3 client executive or risk manager.

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