MCPS Policies To Restrict International Trips

by Sarah Nove ’20

The annual French exchange will no longer take place as of this school year due to changes in Sherwood’s procedure regarding international travel. Sherwood was randomly selected by MCPS for a payroll audit, which found that the school’s procedure for international trips conflicted with county policies. The changes also raise questions about the future of other international trips, such as the biannual Spanish exchange and the choir trip.

Previously, students received excused absences while traveling for international trips, and teachers often took professional leave while supervising these trips. However, according to the audit, since the school district does not endorse international trips, student absences should be considered unexcused and teachers are required to take personal leave when attending international trips. Additionally, teachers may choose to deny their students credit for work missed while out of school for international trips, as is the policy for unexcused absences.

According to French teacher John Falls, who supervises the French exchange, teachers thought that they were authorized to take professional leave. “I thought we were doing the right thing … because if we’re traveling with kids 24/7 for 11 days, we assumed we were working,” said Falls. However, MCPS considers international trips completely separate from the school system.

“Schools are highly discouraged from putting their school name and the district’s name on trips because of the level of liability that could occur,” said Principal Eric Minus. “When you’re taking [a large group of students] out of the country, you can imagine … the risk that could be involved when things could potentially go bad.”

One resolution, Minus suggests, is to schedule international trips during non-instructional periods, such as summer vacation and seasonal breaks. According to Falls, this is not a viable solution for the exchanges, as these trips focus on attending school with their foreign counterparts. Over both winter and summer break, foreign schools are not in session, leaving just spring break. Factoring in the shortened spring break and the time it takes to travel overseas, little time is left for the exchange itself. However, at least for this school year, French students will still come to Sherwood.

Despite the new challenges, some teachers still plan to take students overseas, such as choral teacher Michael Maddox. An estimated 45 students are participating in the scheduled choir trip to Prague and Vienna, which will take place April 4-12, 2019. Additionally, the art department will continue with their annual summer trips, this year’s destination being Portugal and Spain. The future of the Spanish exchange is uncertain.

Students who were planning to go on the spring 2019 French exchange trip are unhappy with the recently made changes brought on by this audit –– students like junior Zach Seymour.