Grasslands Public Schools trustees last Monday approved a motion to send Brooks Composite High School students on an international trip to Japan in April. Approval is subject to acceptable documentation being obtained from Japanese School representatives on host family background checks.
The motion was approved with trustee Pat Connor voting against.
The BCHS exchange trip was tabled at a previous meeting after trustee Melanie Reed-Zukowski voiced concerns with schools that use home stay scenarios and how they are arranged.
While the exchange is in its 24th year, Reed-Zukowski said there is a different climate today. She expressed interest in hearing how parents or families are chosen.
At last Monday’s meeting, trustees were told by associate superintendent Rhian Schroeder background checks on Japanese host families are in the process of being gathered.
Schroeder explained there is a difference in cultural practices. This is something that would not normally be asked of them, she said.
“Their first question was did something happen?”
The reply from Brooks Composite High vice-principal Laurel Beaton was nothing happened.
Schroeder said she did e-mail the division’s insurance company to ensure the division was addressing the standards of care they need.
She said they highly recommend Grasslands does get some documentation confirming a background check has been completed.
“That might not be what a criminal records check looks like in Canada because it is different there.”
Schroeder said having a background check shows due diligence by the division. If something were to happen on a home stay visit, trustees have done their due diligence by asking for the documentation.
Regarding insurance, if a situation were to occur and Grasslands had done its due diligence, insurance would respond the division is covered. She said people would be named in a lawsuit including all of the board members.
Trustee Melanie Chapman suggested this is something that should be explained to officials at Hiroo High School.
“I just wonder if what we are doing is creating a mountain out of a molehill. Do we need this kind of documentation? What do we think is going to happen? Nothing has happened for 24 years. Do we risk the relationship we have with Hiroo School by all of a sudden not appearing to trust their ability to select host families that are safe and caring,” said Connor.
Trustee Kathi Jacobson said she did some research on background checks. The Japanese families would need a letter explaining why it is needed. It would also involve fingerprinting of the individual (s).
Jacobson said it would be available two weeks from the day of the application.
“It was a little more in depth than what we have here so it would be quite a serious thing when they are starting to take their fingerprints,” she said.
Superintendent Scott Brandt said the word they got from the Japanese principal was having families go through this process would be intrusive.
Assistant superintendent Sean Beaton said the word they use is shameful.
“That’s what I was worried about,” said Connor.
Jacobson said another option would be to ask the kids to stay in a hotel.
Reed-Zukowski said that would be a shame too because they would lose something by not having the experience.
Brandt said trustees have to remember all a criminal records check indicates is if a person has a criminal record.
“It is a step in terms of showing diligence but it does not safeguard around the fact there are all kinds of people who have never been charged.”
Reed-Zukowski said the message can be sent that this is just a sign of the times in essence in Canada for making sure when kids are sent across the world they are safe.
Trustee Shaun Roth said any time an insurance company has raised an issue before, the division eliminates it historically.
Reed-Zukowski said she would be very sad if this trip didn’t continue.
“But I just don’t think we can put our heads in the sand either. I’m in favor of this. I want this certain amount of information.”
Chapman said she did not think it was unreasonable to ask for vetting of some sort.
Connor said he would hate to think the division would kill a 24-year-old program where the host familes have been zero problems in the past.