SAD 17 re-examines field trip practices

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BEACH HOOPS — Sixth grade students from the Guy E. Rowe School enjoyed beach activities such as hula hoops and wading, but were told to they could walk along the water's edge only. They were under multiple direct adult supervision.

NORWAY — All water-based field trips have been stopped until school officials re-examine their practices and policies.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts informed the SAD 17 Board of Directors in a June 15 memo that they will review the school district’s own field trip policy, using in part, information that the Lewiston schools may learn after their own investigation into the drowning death of Lewiston Middle School student at Range Pond in Poland on June 12.

HEADS UP — Students from the Rowe Elementary School enjoyed a brisk game of volleyball, one of many activities they enjoyed during a recent field trip to Pennesseewassee Lake Park in Norway.

Hours after the drowning death at Range Pond State Park on June 12, SAD 17 administrators pulled the plug on the planned June 13, Guy E. Rowe 6th-grade trip to the state park in Poland and instead sent them to nearby Pennesseewassee Lake in Norway, which is owned and managed by the town of Norway.

“We did it out of respect,” said Guy E. Rowe Principal Dan Hart of the decision he and his grade 6 team made with the help of Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hartnett at the end of the school day after hearing the news.

Students spent the day at the Pennesseewassee Lake Park involved in activities such as volleyball, basketball, using the 2,000-foot fitness trail that has eight stations, and other activities. Swimming was not allowed, but students were allowed to wade on the edge of the shore under direct adult supervision.

The tragedy at Range Pond, which is a popular destination for end of year school field trips, has sparked conversation in schools throughout the area about the safety of water-based field trips.

“We were all saddened to learn of the loss of a Lewiston Middle School student while on a class trip to Range Pond,” said Colpitts in his memo to the directors. “SAD 17 has hosted many end of the year activities at Range Pond – most recently the senior picnic last week. We have followed similar guidelines on such field trips as Lewiston had in place.”

Lewiston has already made some policy changes, immediately implementing new procedures for field trip approval forms that now must have a full description of activities, such as swimming, that students might be involve in.  The results of a pending investigation by the school’s law firm may result in further or different field trip policies, Superintendent Bill Webster told the Sun Journal.

Like Range Pond State Park, large groups are asked to call first and register so Pennessewassee Lake Park employees know what to do expect and can avoid having too many people on site at once. But unlike Range Pond, Pennesseewassee Lake Park does not have lifeguards, said Recreation Director Deb Partridge.

“There are signs stating ‘No Lifeguard on Duty, Swim at your Own Risk’, so they need to provide the lifeguards if they plan to go into the water,” Partridge told the Advertiser Democrat.  The park is open to the public from dawn to dusk everyday year-round.

The town of Norway does not request groups to sign liability forms to come to Pennesseewassee, but parents must sign permission slips to be there and to be transported back and forth from school, she said.

Hart said the school has talked about going back to Pennesseewassee next year.

“The kindergarten kids went there Tuesday. They loved it,” he said.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net