HSTA takes legal action against new educational travel rule

The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) filed on Wednesday a Petition for a Declaratory Order with the State’s Ethics Commission to request clarification regarding the commission’s decision to prohibit teachers from accepting free travel and other benefits from tour companies while serving as chaperones for education trips.

“School trips provide students with educational lessons outside the classroom, and our teachers dedicate their own free time and resources to chaperone and offer valuable learning experiences during these trips,” said HSTA president Corey Rosenlee. “We strongly feel the Ethics Commission incorrectly concluded that it would be a violation to allow teachers to accept free trips while serving as chaperones. The decision is wrong and will ultimately hurt and deprive our students.”

Every year, dozens of schools offer educational trips to their students and many have already started to plan and fundraise for upcoming trips. Teachers dedicate personal time and resources to coordinate, chaperone and plan curriculum, often times supervising students in other cities and countries for 24 hours, for as long as the trip lasts.

One of the first “casualties” of this newly enforced rule was the Kaimuki Middle School band that canceled its spring study tour to San Francisco because school employees are no longer allowed to go on the trip if someone else is picking up the tab.

KHON2 wanted to find out what’s being done to keep more of these trips from being canceled.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told KHON2 it supports educational travel and it does not expect teachers to pay when they are chaperoning students.

The DOE said they don’t have enough money to pay for teacher or chaperone travel. So right now, they are working with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission to see what fundraising ideas are acceptable.

Teacher Kamilla Maii has been taking her Kaimuki Middle School students on educational trips for years. She has been to China, Japan, London and Paris, and this spring break, she plans to take 25 students and chaperones to Italy for nine days. The trip to Italy will cost students $3,200.

Unless teachers pay for the trips on their own Maii and her students can’t go. “I don’t think its reasonable to ask a hard working teacher to pay to go to work on their vacation time,” Maii said.

The Ethics Commission determined that teachers who are involved in planning the trip and selecting the tour company cannot accept free travel and other benefits from the tour company.

“This decision is wrong and its going to hurt kids,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. “Right now, the two options is one is to take this to court, and the other one is to change the law.”

Rosenlee also told KHON2 that students are not allowed to fundraise to help pay for the teacher’s trip.

In the past, a travel company would cover basic travel fees for the teacher, but now that’s not allowed.

“Usually the costs that are taken care of, with a program or travel package are just flights and accommodations, they don’t include any meals that we eat or anything like that,” said teacher Amy Perruso.

Last year, Kaimuki Middle School band students performed at Carnegie Hall. This year, they planned to go to San Francisco, but plans have changed.

Maii says she doesn’t plan on cancelling the Italy study trip because seven parents have already paid in full.

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