A semester-long Holocaust literature class taught in several of Lincolns high schools for more than 15 years will no longer end with a one-day trip to the Holocaust museum in Washington.
At least it wont be a school-sponsored trip, and, as far as Lincoln Southeast High School teacher Paul Smith is concerned, that means he wont be able to take students.
To me that says that theyre not going to cover me for a substitute, for liability, period, said Smith, who created the class at Southeast in 2001.
Smith said the classes haven’t gone on trips to Washington for a few years because the airline cost had become prohibitive. But he checks each semester, and found some good deals for this spring.
So he planned the trip, sent information home to parents and told his principal, who said he needed to get permission from the district office.
The answer: the district no longer sponsors the trip.
Jane Stavem, associate superintendent for instruction, said the policy regarding trips was revised in 2014 and district officials determined the Holocaust literature trip should not be sponsored, though the teacher could still take students in a non-sponsored trip.
LPS policy allows principals to approve field trips during the regular school day. It also allows for travel for extracurricular activities such as sports and fine arts.
Nonroutine trips require approval of the district office. Many of the trips taken by bands, swing choirs, dance groups or students in various competitions such as We The People fall into that category.
The policy says nonsponsored school trips — those where the district takes no responsibility — include such things as travel for club sports teams, an out-of-state band trip organized by a booster club or a foreign language teacher taking students abroad during the summer. The trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum now falls under that umbrella in school policy.
They can still take the trip, Stavem said.
When the policy was revised, district officials wanted to be more consistent about making sure all school trips followed district policy. For instance, the policy requires all students have the opportunity to take the trip, even low-income students who qualify for a waiver of student fees, she said.
Among the factors the district considers are the length of absence, the educational value, adequate supervision, alternatives that would be closer to home and the amount of preparation.
The fact that the trip happened in the middle of the week and travel required students be up late, and the lack of extended planning were among the reasons the trip wasn’t approved to be sponsored, Stavem said.
Mark Gudgel, who taught the Holocaust class at Southwest for a decade and now teaches at Omaha Public Schools, said the trip is an experience that cant be duplicated in class.
Frankly it doesnt seem like whats best for kids is being considered at all, he said. In my experience the experiential learning that takes place in one of those museums and outside the classroom far exceeds what I can do in the classroom. Ive witnessed it changing students lives.
Gudgel joined LPS because he wanted to teach such a class. He often expanded the trips his students took to several days to include a visit to New York City.
Today, he teaches humanities classes at Omaha North High School and has loosely modeled similar trips after the LPS Holocaust classes.
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The Holocaust literature class delves into the Holocaust and uses that as a basis to talk about present-day genocides, tolerance, prejudice and discrimination.
Interest in the class grew rapidly in those early years and by 2003, and today, most of the LPS high schools offer a Holocaust literature class.
Smith said in the years when the classes didn’t travel to Washington, he tried to find speakers but there was no regular alternative.
And he said he doesnt understand how a trip like this differs from trips taken by school bands or dance troupes.
You can take a bunch of kids dancing in Orlando for a week, he said. I just want to take them to a museum for crying out loud.
Because of seating limitations on the plane, he said hes had to use a lottery system for the trips in the past. And theres always a waiting list for the class. When they traveled, Smith typically researched the flights and shared the information with teachers at other schools.
You cant put a price tag on the experience kids get at the museum, Smith said.
What we have in our own nations capitol is second to none, he said. The insight you get looking at things through a different lens, survivors who are volunteers, historians. You are getting first-hand experiences, first-hand knowledge — things you cant get from literature, a book or a video.
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District pulls sponsorship of Holocaust literature trip to DC – Lincoln Journal Star