[UPDATED: 9:30 p.m. Wednesday]
The Verona Board of Education said it will tighten its rules about chaperoning class trips after a group of fathers supposedly held a party in a cabin during a fifth grade camping trip.
H.B. Whitehorne Middle School Principal Yvette McNeal emailed details of the incident in a letter to parents of all fifth graders earlier in the week. Additional details were learned at Tuesday night’s meeting, including information the fathers, who were supposed to be chaperoning the 10 boys, left them without a chaperone while they lit fires and drank alcohol at another cabin during a five-hour party.
“These fathers should be banned from future class trips,” said Palma Quagliata, a parent of a fifth-grader on the trip. “A message needs to be sent.”
“I’m appalled,” said Quagliata. “It became very clear these men planned this party.”
According to Quagliata the chaperones involved in the incident brought snacks, firewood and alcohol with them to Camp Bernie, all of which was clearly prohibited.
Quagliata asserted the next day the party was being discussed openly and became referred to as the “party for the football boys.”
“They did this simply to elevate their sons,” Quagliata said. “This is just horrific. The kids are left with this impression of the haves and the have-nots.”
Superintendent Steven Forte announced new procedures would be put in place to select and approve chaperones. Class trips will now require background checks of all chaperones and may include the accompaniment of a police officer although Forte maintains the police presence is not in response to the recent incident.
Forte declined taking further action, noting he had discussed the matter with the chief of police and no laws had been violated.
However, parents were not assuaged.
Legal action notwithstanding, Amy Ambrosio who attended the trip as a chaperon, urged the board to enforce the school’s own policies, claiming only by penalizing those who blatantly disregarded the rules would the board be able to convey “to the school and the community that there are consequences.”
The alleged offenses listed by Ambrosio were broader than those mentioned in the school’s letter and, if true, could have jeopardized the safety of the students.
According to Ambrosio, several fathers left their assigned cabins with their sons to attend a party in another cabin, in some cases leaving childrens unattended.
During the five-hour party, the fathers proceeded to drink alcohol in front of the kids, light fires in an outside fire pit as well as in the cabin’s fireplace, and occasionally left kids unattended by the fire.
Ambrosio said the incident allegedly occurred despite a chaperone meeting held to review the rules, which explicitly state no outside food was to be brought in because of the danger of attracting bears, no fires were allowed, and all chaperones were to remain in the cabins with their charges.
Breaking the rules has parents demanding more action be taken by the school.
“If the school can’t enforce rules of conduct, then it shouldn’t run this trip or any other trip,” Ambrosio stressed.
Quagliata also pointed out the school has not addressed the incident with the students, a large portion of whom are aware of the events.
“The board has to let kids know that parents drinking in front of 11-year-olds is wrong,” insisted Dr. George Ambrosio, who cited numerous statistics about underage drinking. “If you tolerate this you are making a huge mistake.”