County tightens rules for field trips

Owings Mills teacher took students to house for picnic

parent upset

March 15, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Friday is field trip day for the life skills class at Owings Mills High School. Last week, students were supposed to go bowling. Instead, the weather was so nice that at the last minute the teacher decided to take the class on a picnic - at her house.

"That's not what a mother wants to hear," said Kemi Olunloyo, whose autistic son, Enitan, is a member of the class. "The children should not have spent the day at her house. They should have told me where my kid was.

"Let's face it, they did something wrong here."

At the start of the school year, Olunloyo and other parents with children in the life skills program signed blanket permission trips for Friday bus trips. The outings are part of the curriculum, which is designed to provide real-life experiences for developmentally disabled students who are not headed for college and will need help doing daily tasks. They go grocery shopping; they go to fast-food restaurants; they learn how to ride the public bus.

But it is not common practice to visit a teacher's house. Now, school system officials say, there will be greater scrutiny of where students go on Fridays - and permission will likely be needed for each trip.

"We have the responsibility of communicating with parents where we take [students] on trips," said Scott Gehring, the executive director who oversees Owings Mills schools. "It was a surprise to the mother and it shouldn't have been.

"There are lots of places to have picnics."

Administrators would not identify the teacher. She has been out sick with the flu and officials have yet to discuss the incident with her. Gehring said he did not know if the teacher, who is not new to the field, would be disciplined.

"It wasn't anything untoward," said school system spokesman Charles A. Herndon. "It was simply going to the yard of the teacher. It did concern us however ... and perhaps there were better options available."

It's not only the detour to the teacher's home that disturbs Olunloyo, a pharmacist and a native of Nigeria. While at the house, someone put a temporary tattoo - what appeared to be a red, white and blue insect - on Enitan's upper arm. A member of the Yoruba tribe, Olunloyo said her culture is one of strict traditions - the wearing of dreadlocks, male and female circumcision, and a prohibition against marks on the body, temporary or otherwise.

"The Yorubas - you can get killed for having a tattoo," she said. "It is blasphemous. It is very demeaning. It is also evil when you put something on your skin, whether it's permanent or temporary."

She discovered the tattoo Saturday, before her family was to attend a large African wedding in traditional dress. While everyone else could wear the special clothes, Enitan could not because his tattoo would be exposed, Olunloyo said. She is so angry she contacted the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I cried," she said. "He said he didn't like the whole thing - it itched him."

This was another example of "perhaps not using the best judgment," Herndon said. "We're not condoning placing any markings on students' bodies," he said.

Olunloyo said she feels the school tried to brush off her concerns by saying the students - who were accompanied by four adult aides - stayed on the lawn and didn't go into the house. She worries about what could have happened.

"If one of those children wanted to go to the bathroom, can you tell me where they would have gone?" she said.

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