Story by Elsie Waters
Photo by Oscar Walsh
Community member and local activist John Sreblaus wrote a letter to the school district on Tuesday, Oct. 12 addressing the high cost of SPMS’ annual eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. In his letter, Srebalus and over 10 other residents and parents raised concerns that the trip’s pricing contradicts the free public school guarantee in the California Constitution and Education Code.
The letter is addressed to SPUSD Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Christiane Gervais. In response, the district conducted an investigation regarding the accessibility of the trip. Through the results of their investigation, the district established that the actions which constitute the basis of the filed complaint are not violations of the law. SPUSD also claims the trip does not qualify as a field trip because it does not take place on instructional days when attendance is required.
“The trip is not conducted in connection with any course of study, nor is it connected to a school-related social, educational, cultural, athletic, school band, or other extracurricular or co-curricular activity,” Gervais said.
SPMS partners with travel company WorldStrides to offer the annual Washington, D.C. trip to all eighth graders over spring break. SPMS math teacher Katy Chen leads the trip alongside other staff members who serve as chaperones. The trip is meant to serve as a way for students to connect with the history they are learning in social studies curriculum through visiting monuments, museums, and other historical sites.
“I don’t want the district to get in the habit of essentially privatizing field trips, under these for-profit companies as a shield for practices that would clearly be impermissible under the district’s own banner,” Srebalus said.
The current price for a student to attend the trip is $2,468. Srebalus’ letter cites California Education Code 35330, detailing that this opportunity is a field trip. While the district may charge a fee for field trips, a student may not be excluded from one for financial reasons.
“The California Constitution requires that the public school system be free and that they don’t transfer part of the school system to an outside party that would run things differently,” Srebalus said. “So, it’s a constitutional matter. When you get into the language [of the letter,] it’s pretty powerful stuff in that it’s about ensuring that all students have equal access regardless of their place on the economic spectrum.”
Sreblaus first became aware of the field trip and its associated cost through his involvement with South Pasadena’s Anti-Racism Committee (ARC). ARC’s concerns about the trip stem from the fact that students would be visiting the homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Mount Vernon and Monticello respectively, which were both plantations that enslaved people.
“[We hope] this field trip will highlight those aspects of these places and not glorify them,” Srebalus said.
On Thursday, Nov. 18, Sreblaus sent an appeal to the California Department of Education further explaining the situation. He requested they cancel existing student reservations, correct the current status of the trip, and announce it as a new school-sponsored event that complies with the state law. Srebalus is currently awaiting a response.