Almost two years after an incident that sent a former teacher to prison for 12 years for hiding cameras in student hotel rooms, the Madison School Board is moving forward with changes to the district’s field trip policies.
Policies regarding field trips have not been updated since 2016, but the December 2019 incident involving former East High School teacher David Kruchten highlighted shortcomings in the district’s policies.
Kruchten had held copies of student keys to access their rooms, and after students discovered the hidden cameras he failed to report the incident immediately. A third-party report, however, found the only violation of board policy was that Kruchten used a personal cellphone to communicate with students and parents during the trip. The June 2020 report recommended policy changes, but district officials didn’t forward recommendations to the board until after the report was accidentally released to a local media outlet in August.
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During those 14 months, district administration turned over and the new administration was focused primarily on addressing COVID-19.
The proposed updates to the field trip policy include ensuring there is emergency after-hours contact information for the district administrator responsible for the trip, along with requirements that chaperones directly report any occurrences affecting student or staff safety.
The board will also vote on additions to a form that staff members sponsoring trips are required to fill out and sign. Those additions include an agreement to obtain a mobile device from the district to use for all communications on the trip and to immediately report issues involving student safety or trauma via phone call or email to a building principal or to district administration.
A hotel room key addendum is among the changes to the form that staff members are required to fill out. The new requirement states that students should receive room keys directly from the establishment, or that a second person, such as an authorized chaperone or another student, observe the distribution of keys from a staff member to students.
“I think what the community wants is policy that shows we responded to problems we’ve had in the past,” board member Cris Carusi said.
The policy, still being revised, isn’t yet slated for a full School Board vote.
“I think in this narrow circumstance, parents are going to be worried on having their kids on field trips for the next couple of years, I think we could really do a service if we included high-level policy,” board member Nicki Vander Muelen said.
Board vice president Savion Castro also suggested professional development for staff regarding mandatory reporting guidelines and implementing the new policy.
Proposed changes to the policy were discussed Monday by a School Board workgroup, just days after seven former East students and parents of two current students filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the district and Kruchten, for trauma they experienced after learning the teacher planted hidden cameras in hotel bathrooms.
“The high school girls felt tremendously violated and are still dealing with those emotions,” attorney Jeff Scott Olson said last week. “What you would expect a responsible school district to do is to be relatively transparent when addressing the situation.”
Instead, Olson said, the School District has structured its internal investigations surrounding the incident to avoid releasing the details to families based on attorney-client privilege.
The district has looked for ways to share as little as possible with them rather than looking for ways to help them heal, Olson said. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
The Wisconsin State Journal filed open records requests for reports from the district’s third-party investigation into two camera incidents, one involving Kruchten and a separate discovery that hidden cameras were once installed in an East coach’s office. Both requests were denied due to attorney-client privilege, even after the full third-party investigative report on the Kruchten incident was accidentally released to Isthmus. The district spent roughly $38,000 to conduct both internal investigations.