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Courtesy Maura Fitzgerald L-R Leitzsey and Fitzgerald Courtesy Maura Fitzgerald

New DOE Regs, Higher Costs Threaten to Ground Williamsburg Prep Students

A global studies program designed to expand educational horizons is in danger of being cancelled at Williamsburg Prep, following a change in policy at the Department of Education (DOE).

Since 2010, Social Studies teachers Maura Fitzgerald and Nytangia Leitzsey have been organizing international trips for their students, during their vacations. Having toured Spain and France, the globetrotters plan to visit Berlin and Prague this year and Italy the next. To help get the most out of their limited travel time and keep costs manageable, the educators signed on with EF Educational Tours, a leading student travel organization.

When Fitzgerald and Leitzsey started the well-received program, DOE policy required a ratio of one adult chaperone for every six travelling students. That proportion aligns exactly with EF’s package that provides one free adult trip for six paid students. As of 2011, however, DOE now requires three chaperones for up to 15 students and additional adult supervision for more travelers.

The seemingly minor change from a six-to-one to a five-to-one adult-to-student ratio has had a major effect, with the school now forced to pay for an additional supervisor. According to Fitzgerald, it’s understandably difficult to find someone willing to pay $2-3,000 to work during their vacation.

“We teach global history and we want to expose kids to what different lifestyles are around the world,” explained Fitzgerald. “Our goal is to get kids to love to travel,” added Leitzsey. “[Before our program], going to Manhattan was a big trip for a lot of our students. It gives them the confidence to continue to explore the world and to learn about it.”

Rather than disappointing the students and scrapping their 2012 and 2013 trips, each of which required around 16 months of planning, the teachers found two faculty members willing to split the cost for the additional chaperones. “But we’re tapping out our resources of adults that can afford to travel for a work vacation and pay for it,” Fitzgerald said.

In response to the school’s request to go back to the older standard, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s office released a statement, saying “student safety is paramount, and it is important to have enough chaperones on field trips.”

Fitzgerald and Leitzsey still hope that the DOE will work with them to protect the trips, and if that fails, to find a benefactor to help fund the additional chaperone.

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