School’s out? We’re going to Disneyland!

If students are rewarded at the end of a tough school year with roller-coaster rides and a day at the beach—even a visit to a religious school—"so what?” says Scott Schofield, president of the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees.

“They raise their own money,” Schofield said. “It’s not only an educational opportunity … but a little payback for the hard work they do all year.”

Students routinely take end-of-the year trips to such places as Yosemite Park and the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore. Or they pair band competitions with a trip to Great America.

It’s less common, however, to go where the Chico Junior High School student government class is headed next week: Biola University, a school whose mission is “biblically centered education, scholarship and service equipping men and women in mind and character to impact the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.”

David Reise, the CUSD assistant superintendent who signs off on major field trip requests, said that while he doesn’t remember any visits to a Christian university in the three years he’s been reviewing the requests, any concerns about this one have been put to rest.

“They’re not pushing off their religious beliefs on the kids,” Reise said. “They got invited to go to chapel. They declined.” Instead, the students will learn about the differences in costs and admissions requirements between public and private universities and also meet with student government members at Biola about leadership opportunities there.

One of the people who raised concerns about the visit to the Christian college was Dan Sours, president of the Chico Unified Teachers Association.

He said it was ironic that the board would, as it did earlier this year, deny a Waldorf method charter school because it’s based on perhaps-spiritual philosophies and then OK a trip to a religious school. Sours acknowledged that he e-mailed trustees about “the separation of church and state issues,” but “I got no response.”

Schofield, his political antennae up, called Sours’ comparison to the Waldorf situation “nitpicky bullshit.” He added: “The issues don’t even stand on the same planet together.”

Marco Chinchay is the teacher leading the trip to Biola, the beach and Disneyland. Pat McIntyre, the principal at Chico Junior who signed off on the field trip request there, said, “I don’t see it as a real issue.” She said the visit would just be just to see what private colleges are like. “It’s not like they’re going to try to convert them. … It wasn’t meant to be anything other than education.”

She also confirmed that the Biola visit wasn’t in the original itinerary. But when the field trip request got to the District Office level, it was seen as heavy on recreation and light on education. Chinchay knew someone at Biola, so he set up a visit. Also, they agreed to miss only Friday rather than two school days.

After some behind-the-scenes debate, the trip unanimously passed as part of the board’s consent agenda on May 2, with no discussion.

Also approved was the Marsh Junior High School field trip this month to the University of California at Santa Cruz. They’ll see the sights as well.

“We don’t have a policy per se, but generally there’s an expectation that field trips would be taken for mainly an educational purpose,” Reise said, especially if the students miss school to go.

Schofield, who’s been a parent chaperone on the UC Santa Cruz trip, acknowledged that a lot of it is about fun and games. He mentioned physics class trips to Great America, where they ride roller coasters and talk about why they move the way they do. "That’s a thin line … but my gosh it’s an end-of-the-year trip for the seniors, so why not? There is some learning and there is some fun involved, and I don’t have a problem with that."