Chaperone Supervision Roles for Student Trips

By Harry Cheff, Risk Management Associate

Throughout the year and particularly during the winter months, there are a number of school activities every day of the week and even on weekends.  Depending on the event the students are participating in, and depending on the gender and number of participants, the activity often requires additional supervision.  Because staff in most districts are – even without these additional activities – already stretched thin, the district often reaches out to members of the public to act as chaperones for assistance.  Nothing is more time consuming and potentially costly to the operation of the District than an activity went bad due to a lack of judgment on behalf of these well-intentioned stand-in chaperones.  Aware of these needs and related dangers, we offer you the following considerations to contemplate. 

First, every District should have a policy that addresses the role of volunteers and chaperones play in assisting schools with activities.  MTSBA Model Policy 5430 states, “The District recognizes the valuable contributions made to the total school program by members of the community who act as volunteers.  District employees who work with volunteers shall clearly explain duties for supervising children in school, on the playground, and on field trips. An appropriate degree of training and/or supervision of each volunteer shall be administered commensurate with the responsibility undertaken. When serving as a chaperone for the District, the parent(s)/guardian(s) or other adult volunteers, including employees of the District, must abide by all rules, regulations, and policies of the District. Chaperones and volunteers shall be given a copy of the rules and sign a letter of understanding verifying they are aware of and agree to these District rules before being allowed to accompany students on any field trip or excursion.”

The function of a chaperone is an important one and requires that individuals be provided clearly defined roles and, in turn, accept certain specific responsibilities.  First, in terms of the articulated roles, chaperones must be aware when accepting an invitation to serve that they will be acting in a “supervisor” capacity.  With that in mind, chaperones need to understand that there is a clear difference between supervision and participation.  Each time an employee, volunteer, or chaperone elects to serve in a supervisory role, they willingly accept a concomitant risk of injury.  Accordingly, if injured while participating, they could incur additional unanticipated financial, emotional, and physical challenges associated with the recovery process. While on field trips, they must thus be cognizant of all dangers and avoid any potential hazards when possible. This cautious and prudential approach to serving is especially pertinent and necessary when supervising such obviously dangerous activities as sledding, skiing, ice-skating, etc. Supervision is their primary duty in these situations, and participation should be limited and under control.

Given the dangers and related liabilities, the district is obliged to provide the following guidelines to the chaperones; chaperones/volunteer supervisors must –

  • Report immediately to the district personnel any violations of rules of the school system and/or the civil laws of society by students
  • Not, without proper authorization, transport in their own vehicles any students
  • Not allow a student to be checked out to an adult who is not the student’s legal parent/guardian
  • Not use tobacco products in the presence of students
  • Not consume alcoholic beverages or use any illicit drugs during the duration of the assignment

Chaperones are typically parents, grandparents, older siblings, community members, etc. who have a shared interest in the activity the district is sponsoring.  They are welcomed to serve as a chaperone and in doing so are helping to extend the regular curriculum beyond the classroom in the form of field trips, excursions, or other activities.  At no time should a chaperone have “regular unsupervised contact” with the students, as determined by the administration.  If there is a chance that “regular unsupervised contact” may occur, the District is legally obligated to require that the individual have a fingerprint and name-based background check. 

Regardless of the chaperone’s connection to the school, the task of supervising is an important one and requires the individual to accept certain responsibilities. Prior to chaperoning an activity, every chaperone must sign a “Chaperone Letter of Understanding.”  If the district does not have a “Chaperone Letter of Understanding,” contact Kris Goss (Senior Counsel/Outreach Manager) for MTSBA.

MSGIA wants activities involving chaperones to be a great learning experience for all involved. In order for that to happen, Districts must take the proper precautions to ensure chaperones know and understand their roles. So, please remember that when you utilize chaperones, make sure the district 1) has a policy in place, 2) has a form that chaperones sign as part of this policy, 3) and, most notably, has clearly defined the chaperone’s roles pertaining to the activity in question. 

Have a great winter and be safe. Return to newsletter