Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Phylicia's Law - June 15, 2009

Cathy McMorris Rodgers
June 15, 2009— U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 729, Phylicia's Law, which would require school districts that receive funds under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program to develop and make public a written, district-wide school safety plan governing off-premises, overnight field trips.

As I am sure many of my colleagues are aware, school field trips are an important component of student learning in the education system. Almost every school in the country has programs in place that take elementary and secondary school students to parks, to museums, to nature centers, and to other outdoor settings that provide an important contribution to the learning process.

Researchers have documented the cognitive and effective benefits of field trips, including an increased motivation for learning, a more positive attitude towards science and the acquisition of knowledge and skills. Further, field trips can stimulate interest in a student's future career and can result in an improved attitude toward school.

At the same time, many schools and school districts also sponsor overnight field trips, such as overnight camping trips or academic events, where students travel sometimes long distances to compete with other students. In these situations, it is vitally important that school districts have safety plans in place so that the students can feel safe. It is important that there are policies in place to address emergency situations that may occur.

The sobering reality of the reason this bill is on the floor today is due to the tragic circumstances that came to light after a student lost her life while on a 2-week field trip to Ghana with her class. Eighteen-year-old Phylicia Moore was last seen at 10:30 p.m. on April 15, 2007, when she left a group around a hotel pool to go to her room to change. She was found 11 hours later at the bottom of the pool. Chaperones initially said they had checked on the students in their rooms the night before, but later admitted they had not. Phylicia would probably be here today if the buddy system or other protections had been in place.

Experts say that there are a number of best practices a school should follow while on a field trip. It is important for chaperones to know the children in their care. All chaperones should have a concise list of the participants' names, addresses and phone numbers so their parents or guardians can be reached during the hours the chaperones are responsible for their children. A student's information should identify whether he or she has mental, physical or emotional special needs. The more chaperones know about the students in their care the easier it will be for them to feel confident that they can head off potential trouble and can keep everyone on the field trip safe at all times.

A second key to field trip safety is having students look out for each other. It is important for chaperones to have their eyes on the children at every moment possible, but it is impossible for them to respond to every question and to meet every need that arises. Regardless of age, having students use the buddy system is important so that someone is always accountable for the other's whereabouts.

Overnight trips should have reasonable curfews in place that are adhered to. Room checks should be conducted by chaperones on a regular basis, and emergency procedures should be in place should a serious injury or death occur. These policies will help ensure that the trip will be safe and enjoyable for all involved.

Mr. Speaker, this bill does not specify a particular policy that schools must follow when conducting a field trip, but it would merely require school districts that receive funds under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program to develop and make public a written, district-wide school plan governing off-premises, overnight field trips. Whether on or off campus, we all know that students achieve their full academic potential when they have the ability to learn in a safe and secure environment. This bill will help ensure that learning opportunities outside the school campus can be experienced safely.

I would ask all of my colleagues to support H.R. 729.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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