A Circuit Court judge Friday threw out a state Ethics Commission opinion handed down in August 2015 that public school teachers who accepted free travel from tour companies in exchange for chaperoning education trips risked violating the state ethics code.
Hawaii State Teachers Association attorney Colleen Hanabusa argued in court that the commission erred in not going through a rule-making process before issuing both an advisory opinion and guidance memo saying that teachers risked violating the ethics code by accepting “free trips” to accompany classes on educational travel.
Judge Rhonda Nishimura ruled both the opinion and the memo are null and void. The judge also found the commission’s decision was subject to rule making, because it affected a broad group of teachers, students and others.
More than 31 class trips statewide were canceled because of the ethics opinion and many others were not planned out for fear of violating the ethics code.
“HSTA is to be applauded for pursuing this case, because it has ramifications for so many students, teachers and others,” said Hanabusa. “For many public school students, these trips are their only chance to travel off their home island or out of state to learn about history, new cultures and other places.”
In a decades-old practice that’s routine at public and private schools across the country, Hawaii public school teachers are given one free trip in exchange for every 10 students who take educational trips. The teachers, who are not paid any salary for going on the trips, chaperone students, help plan the itineraries and create lesson plans tied in with travel destinations.