Excluding Students from Field Trips

Imagine this–your school is planning a field trip. But, they call you and say “Oh, I’m sorry, your child cannot go because he is African-American.”

Or, “We’d love for your daughter to join us, unfortunately we are not equipped to bring Jewish children on this field trip. We just don’t have the staff.”

Sounds crazy and outrageous, right? So then why the **&&^$%$& do some schools think it’s OK to do this to kids with disabilities?!?!

field trips disabilities special needs

File this one under “I can’t believe I have heard this so many times that I have to address it.”

I have heard from about a half dozen families in the past few weeks, and their child has an IEP or 504 and was excluded from the school field trip.

Special Education Field Trip Laws

No, they cannot exclude your child from a public school sponsored activity based upon their disability. It can’t be because “we don’t have a nurse to go on the trip” or “we’re afraid your son may elope” or any other reason related to their disability. I will address discipline in a minute.

But excluding a child based upon their disability is a solid no. Don’t look for this in IDEA, you won’t find it there. It would be a violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or ADA, depending on the specific scenario. See a lawyer if you cannot resolve this on your own. This is not intended to replace legal advice.

LOOK HERE at this information, page 3.

Field Trips and Students with Disabilities

  1. Get it in writing. If the school sends you a note, you’ve got it. If they tell you on the phone, follow up with an email. “Thanks for calling today. I just want to be clear that what you said is XYZ.”
  2. Follow up to the Special Ed Director with your concerns. “Dear Spec Ed Director, Yesterday I was informed that my son is not welcome on the field trip because….which I believe is in clear violation of ADA/504 Act. Please let me know when we can meet to resolve this, as he very much is looking forward to the event and should not be excluded based upon his disability.” See where that gets you.
  3. If they stand firm, or, they say something incredibly stupid like “Well, he can go, but only if you go as his 1:1 chaperone” keep pushing. Is he being treated differently than his peers? Do all children with special needs have to have a parent? No? Then they are still violating the law, by treating him differently. If they are requiring all disability parents to attend, then the entire group is being marginalized.
  4. They must follow the IEP while on the trip. If the child gets a 1:1 or a nurse or a sign language interpreter, or whatever supports they need. They get it on the trip.
  5. If it is not resolved, consider filing an OCR complaint or just calling the Office of Civil Rights or your local disability rights agency. OCR complaints take time to fill out, but this one is pretty cut and dry and shouldn’t take that long.
  6. There are a few OSEP Dear Colleague letters that have been sent out by OSEP to schools. They have given schools guidance on what to do regarding extracurricular activities, field trips and more. You may find one that suits your situation and show it to your school personnel.
  7. If none of the above has worked and you wish to pursue the issue, find a Disability Rights lawyer or Special Education lawyer.

Field Trip Exclusion: Behaviors or Discipline.

Can students be excluded from field trips for behaviors? Short answer, NO. Your kid has behaviors. I get it. You have a behavior plan. But still, not every day is a great day for your child, even with supports. So, your school is leery about bringing your child on the trip, for fear of him/her acting out, eloping, whatever the behavior might be.

They still have to accommodate the IEP and behavior plan, and cannot come up with impromptu discipline rules. Such as, “Well, he eloped 4 times, so we are not letting him go on the trip.”

Fine, please show me the school policy where it says that every child who has eloped 4x cannot go on field trips.

What about earned field trips?

In some circumstances, clubs or teams may take a special trip based on their performance. So, say your school’s chess club has 30 members, including your child. They are taking the “Top 10” players to a special match. Your child is an excellent chess player, you think he is definitely Top 10. But, you also feel that he’s probably being excluded because of his Aspergers and the fact that not many other kids like him.

Ok, think Dance Moms. This isn’t as cut and dry as the issues above. I would ask the coach or club leader what determining criteria they used, and how you can help your child be successful. Sometimes coaches are going to make decisions we don’t agree with. But that doesn’t always mean our child’s civil rights have been violated. Try working with them, get them as an ally, to see how important this activity is to your child.

Set your child up for success.

You want your child to succeed. Frankly, many field trips are overrated. Does your child even want to go? Even with their full supports, do you feel that they can be successful?

As appropriate, discuss all concerns with your child. Help them be successful. If you really don’t think they can handle this, and that it will be a disaster, don’t send them and just ‘hope for the best.’

Moms have the best gut instincts. Follow them.

Do you want to go along but are not being allowed?

Why do you want to go? Because you feel that your child truly cannot be successful unless you go? Or is it because you’re anxious about them being in a new and different environment without you. If it’s the first one, try working with the team and explaining your concerns, and why your presence will help your child be successful. If it’s the latter…well, that you have to work through.

But one of the best things we can do for our kids is to let them experience things independently, and be successful at it. Without us. No matter how much that hurts.

{author’s note: Updating in 2019 to check links, and because this question has come up again this week. Several times. Must be field trip season}