Most school field trips involve traveling to other states for a few days. But music director Rick Sadlon and high school band teacher Jonathan Grauer have something more elaborate in mind — a cruise to Bermuda.
Sadlon and Grauer told the Board of Education at its July 31 meeting that they would like to take 150 high school students on a one-week cruise during spring break next year. Band members would join the 500-plus other students for the Festivals at Sea excursion.
“I’ll admit this is kind of edgy,” Sadlon told the board. “It’s fun and exciting and we’ve never done it before.”
During the cruise, students would participate in a 30-minute clinic and have opportunities to see other schools perform, as well as have one performance themselves. There would also be an additional 3,500 people aboard the ship not affiliated with any school, Sadlon said.
Most Board of Ed members found the trip as presented a bit too risky for the purported benefits. “I see a red flag with this fairly limited music participation,” said Vice Chairman Clara Sartori. “It just seems like a risk I’m not willing to take.”
Sadlon said he shared some of the same concerns, but after learning about how many other schools have done the trip, and getting positive feedback from those schools’ administrations, his own trepidation subsided.
“They’re all on a ship — contained on a ship,” Sadlon said. “It is self-contained. They can’t go in to certain rooms, they can’t buy certain things.”
Chaperones would require the kids to check in every two hours, Sadlon said. Once they made it to port in Bermuda, however, the details became a bit muddled. Grauer said there are two days in the British island for excursions, such as spending time at the beach or other island activities. Several Board of Ed members said they’d like to know more about the excursions before allowing the trip.
“You need to convince me that this is more important to do than going to heritage festival,” said Chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross. “Why should we approve this trip on a boat, down to an international port that has casino, a different drinking age? What are the children getting different educationally than an educational festival?”
Matt Byrnes, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said this was a chance to give these kids a level of independence and responsibility that’s reflective of the schools’ goals and objectives.
“We talk a lot about independence and responsibility,” Byrnes said. “Kids having experience where they get to apply these things in new or novel situations would be beneficial. If we always default and say, ‘Let’s do what we always do, or what we perceive to be safe,’” might not be the best decision-making technique.
Sadlon said Bethel High School has taken the trip twice in the past, and a few other Connecticut schools have also participated. “It’s not much different from other festivals,” Sadlon said.
Board member Susan Perticone asked how they would make it safe for 150 kids.
“What do you mean by safe,” Grauer responded, adding that chaperones would be present during the excursions as well as during the boat ride.
“There’s never a case where kids are unattended at all,” Sadlon added. Grauer noted that in regular festivals, the schools rarely get a chance to hear each other perform because of the rigorous scheduling. But with the cruise, students will have more opportunities to listen to other school bands.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephen Falcone said there’s liability in everything the schools do. “This is not fly by night,” Falcone said. “This is tried and true.” Festivals at Sea has been around for 25 years, according to the company’s website.
Board member George Reilly said he was concerned about the 3,500 other people who had nothing to do with the school trip, and how they would interact with the kids.
“The rules will be as clear as they can possibly be,” Grauer said. “It’s a step toward them becoming adults.”
Sadlon added that band kids are generally well behaved. “They’re really good kids,” he said. “They’re long-term goal thinkers. We’ve never had any trouble. Our kids travel very well.”
Hagerty-Ross asked about sea sickness and people falling out of the boat.
“Usually the falling off is an intentional falling off,” Sadlon responded, half-joking.
Sartori lamented the bad press the cruise industry has sustained over the years. Greenwich resident George Smith IV went missing from a cruise ship in 2005 during his honeymoon in the Mediterranean, which resulted in a multi-million dollar FBI investigation that remains ongoing. Wilton Bulletin reporter Joan Lownds’ book, “Man Overboard: Inside the Honeymoon Cruise Murder,” covered the Smith case in detail.
Smith’s family helped establish the International Cruise Victims Association, an organization that helps victims of crime on cruise ships. Because of the international nature of cruises, establishing jurisdiction can be a nightmare, and crimes are often unreported or evidence often disappears, according to the association.
This past January, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act went into effect, which, among other things, requires better transparency in crime reporting on cruise ships by establishing a structure between the cruise industry, the FBI and the Coast Guard, requiring each ship to maintain a log book recording all deaths, missing passengers, alleged crimes, and complaints about theft, sexual harassment and assault.
Board of Ed members remained unconvinced that the trip was thoroughly vetted. “This falls on us,” said board member Heather Shea. “If something happens, it falls on us.”
Perticone said she would support the trip, but she wanted the details ironed out first. “I do think it’s a great opportunity,” she said.
Hagerty-Ross said she’d also like to see a more detailed itinerary before it earned her approval. “I would like to see laid out more what the kids are doing, for me to be a little more comfortable,” she said.
The trip would cost around $1,000 per student, and aid would be available to anyone who couldn’t afford to pay, Byrnes said.
The board asked Sadlon and Grauer to come back with more specific information before they would vote on the proposed field trip. The board tabled the vote until their next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 28.