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A father takes issue because the Patrick Henry High School group was combined with another group of teens that was allowed to drink.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
A school-sponsored spring break trip to Europe by a group of Roanoke students has created questions and concern at home after parents learned about students drinking alcohol on the trip.
Parent Marc Swanson, whose son was on the trip, said Patrick Henry High School students traveled abroad through a group called Education First and visited Bavaria, Austria and Germany alongside another group of teens from Tennessee who were permitted to drink.
Swanson said during the spring break trip Patrick Henry students were teased by students from the other group because they were not drinking, and later some Patrick Henry students did participate in a gathering where alcohol was consumed.
“They had been outside the party for eight days looking in. They resented this and acted in a way that was predictable and many ways inevitable,” Swanson said during the public comment period at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
Swanson, who became emotional during his impassioned speech, called the weeklong travel in Europe a “Roanoke City Schools sponsored Bavarian drinking trip.”
Swanson said six Patrick Henry students, including his son, who confessed to drinking after being questioned by adults on the trip were later suspended for five days and some were kicked out of the National Honor Society.
What he takes issue with is the fact Patrick Henry students traveled with another group of teens allowed to drink and that he and other parents did not consent to such a trip.
He wants an apology from the school system. Swanson, who spoke along with his wife and another parent Tuesday, said he would never have let his son attend had he known teens would be drinking.
During the public comment period, his wife, Cathy Swanson, also criticized the school system.
“We hold Roanoke City Public Schools responsible for contribution to delinquency of minors because of what happened on this trip,” she said.
Both said school system officials didn’t do enough before the trip. Marc Swanson said the school’s principal, Connie Ratcliff, did not communicate with the Tennessee group and was unaware other teens would be drinking.
In an email request to talk about the trip with Ratcliff before the evening school board meeting, school system spokesman Justin McLeod responded by saying system personnel cannot comment.
McLeod did not answer further questions about the trip and school system policies, but did provide a copy of the system’s Student Code of Conduct. The code stipulates students shall not
possess, use, purchase and/or distribute alcohol at school activities whether they are on or off school campuses.
School board members, who typically do not respond to citizen comments at board meetings, did not address the matter Tuesday. Both Marc and Cathy Swanson spoke in excess of the board’s three-minute policy for comments. Board Vice Chairman Todd Putney interrupted Marc Swanson several times before finally inviting another speaker to the lectern.
After the meeting, school board attorney Tim Spencer said the school system would not comment on any disciplinary issues, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits school systems from giving out information pertaining to a student’s academic record without written permission.
Spencer even declined to speak broadly about any disciplinary actions of students but did say there is flexibility when it comes to disciplinary policies, but officials must also make sure there is a measure of consistency.
Superintendent Rita Bishop said the school system has had trips with the Education First group before. Spencer added they have been without incident.
A spokesman with Education First confirmed Patrick Henry students took a trip through the group but did not provide details about the other school group.
Spokesman Adam Bickelman wrote in an email he could not disclose details about specific tour groups but did say his organization did not receive any reports from either school. He said if Education First received word of inappropriate conduct during a tour and it violated their policies, action would have been taken.
According to the group’s policy, “parents may give permission to travelers who are of legal drinking age in the destination country to consume an occasional beer or glass of wine at meals in the presence of the Group Leader.”
Weather JournalMidday update: More ice likely later