Transportation of students to events question

Our school has told us that we cannot transport any students in personal vehicles to any off campus events. Even to take a student to the hardware store during build with their own parent or a teacher or paid mentor.
To take students to an event and help with load in we have to rent a crew cab truck to tow the trailer. Tried renting a passenger van but could not find one. That cost us $145 for 3 hours use last Wednesday. We have even been told that we cannot have parents bring their own kids and friends to load in personal vehicles.
Does anybody else have this issue with their school? If so, how do you deal with it?

We have these issues, and we deal with it by following the rules. It’s a pain, but it ensures that our robot team can continue.

As far as I can tell, the rules are mostly there to satisfy the school district insurance policy. Once I figured that out, it all made sense.

It is for this reason that my team could not compete the second day of our first district event when a snowstorm caused all school events to be cancelled, including bus transportation. Even parents were not allowed to drive their kids to the event.

It’s tough, but rules are rules, and school districts have to ensure that their students are safe. It’s part of the game.

I recommend working within the rules and concentrating on finding new sponsorship to help pay for the travel costs.

We have similar rules, although parents are always allowed to transport their own kids. And if the arrangements are made ahead of time because other alternatives are not feasible, and if all the proper forms are filled out, we can have students transported in private vehicles. For example, for the first day at Queen City this year we are having parents drive students down to Cincinnati and back to Dublin (near Columbus) at the end of the day. As MrForbes said, these rules are almost always because of the school district’s insurance policy, so we work within the rules.

Non-school-based teams are becoming more and more common each year in NC for these reasons. We’re in the process of creating our own independent organization as a 501c3 - and buying our own liability insurance. We operated generally as an independent organization this year, and all of the situations where the school was involved ended up being disasters. If we would have strictly followed school rules this year, we would not have fielded a robot, and we would have had to be “no-shows” at our week 1 event, because the school tried to shut us down for a snowstorm that was predicted to hit locally AFTER we would have already made it to Palmetto. The team ended up getting their parents’ to sign waivers and we went as a non-sanctioned trip. I was particularly proud that every single member still attended, and we had 100% support from the parents.

From my experiences thus far: Obtaining an EIN to create the organization and open a bank account - free via online form / Requesting 501c3 status…small to moderate budget teams (<$50,000) can do this with the EZ form and the cost is $400 / One year of liability insurance - estimates $800 - $1200.
Add it all up, and it is less than the difference between fuel for private vehicles and the cost of a charter bus for one moderate-distance trip.

We need the school’s support to allow our field trips to be excused absences, and to recognize the kids’ accomplishment - but they provide us no space and no money, and the level of liability-paranoia makes it impossible (not “difficult”…“impossible”) to operate within the rules.

This seems like an extreme case, but yes, this is all about liability and insurance and protecting the kids and the school.

Not allowing a parent to take their own kid to the hardware store sounds a little excessive, though.

I volunteer with a kids’ summer camp and we ran into the same issues when our insurance provider started asking more questions about off-site trips. It is a valid question. If I as a camp volunteer drive a group of campers somewhere and get into a serious accident, who is culpable? Myself as an individual? The camp? Camp tried to enforce a policy where drivers of private vehicles had to provide proof of insurance coverage, but the best solution was to hire a yellow school bus to transport everyone. That was super expensive, though, so we eventually stopped doing the outtrip altogether.

Can you hire a yellow school bus or a coach bus? Maybe put out a call to your network of friends and family. Maybe someone close to the school is a driver who can put something together.

We have it worse. The only way we are allowed to get transported are through district buses. (We get the ones with wheelchair lifts). Now that wouldnt be an issue if they payed for them but we have to be for 2 out of the 3 days. $1000 dollars off of our 9k budget.

It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder why more teams don’t ditch the school and do the Exploding Bacon thing and go 4H. It seems they are more out to hinder the FIRST program than help it.

The single biggest issue with function as a FIRST team in a school is whether there is a teacher to run at least the administrative side of the team. When you don’t have a teacher, or the teacher is not really invested in the program, it can be hard to negotiate the rules and regulations. And if teams are not school based the rules vary greatly about missing school to attend competitions. Also, a teacher is more likely to be able to get time off to take the students to a competition.

I am certainly not opposed to non-school-based teams. That said, I do want to work toward, if not a team in every school at least a team in every district, because teams that are not based in schools can be difficult for some students, particularly economically disadvantaged students, to be a part of. Simple things like transportation to and from meetings can be a problem.

When we get to the point where people expect their to be a robotics team in their school, it will be a priority for the school. Think about football teams and marching bands. The budget for our band is several multiples bigger than our budget for FRC. If the band director resigns looking for a replacement is a big deal. For many school based FRC teams there is a teacher who got the team going. When that teachers leaves, it can be devastating. I want to get FRC to the point that the principal or athletic director just know it is important to get a good person to run the robotics team. I still have a dream of winning an Ohio Capital Conference Robotics Championship before I retire.

Interesting, we did not have this problem last year. We don’t have this problem this year either because San Diego is a week 6 event which falls right onto spring break (and my birthday!).

However, I believe that we just scheduled an extended leave instead of as a field trip, because if we never showed up to school in the first place we aren’t under their responsibility (as per permission slips).

our district has paperwork we fill out for each vehicle we anticipate using to transport kids during the year.

basically they just want to guarantee we have sufficient liability insurance to cover any accidents.

it’s not too big a deal, as long as we get the paperwork in. we also have to have all volunteers who would be supervising any of the kids go through background checks and a short online safety training. it’s the same for any school activities.

we are fortunate that our district’s bus contractor has a “sports bus” (capacity 14) they let school groups use for free (we pay gas costs, only) as long as the driver is certified to drive. it has helped us attend a lot of events we couldn’t have afforded to hire a bus for.

I would suggest that you try to find someone within the school system to help you out.

We encountered the same issue. As it turns out that there was a lot of misunderstanding, ignorance, paranoia and downright laziness involved. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that students could never be transported by mentors. Well… after pushing a bit harder on the subject (and getting the athletic director on our side) it turns out that mentors *can *drive students if they can prove their car is registered, insured, and their license is up-to-date. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same was true for your school.

In general terms we play within the rules. We also have a mentor who is really good at dealing with red tape (seriously, he is worth his weight in gold) and can almost always work through, or around, the bureaucratic roadblocks that plague most school systems. It takes time, and lots of face-to-face meetings, but many things can be done.

Boy, all of this sounds like my school district in a lot of ways.

  • Mentor to get through red tape: Yup, that’s my role. I find that I have to actively pursue anything I think important to the team. The first thing I have to do is make sure that hte building administration really sees what FIRST does for kids. Second, I have to show them that not only to the kids love it, but so do the local colleges, businesses, etc. I then point to the little clause in the district mission statement about STEM… I have been known to ask such questions as, “If robotics fits into our mission so obviously and all the current research shows that football is harmful to kids, why does football get funded at 100 time the level of robotics? This seems especially strange when we have more robotics students than football players.”

  • It is often easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission… Consider: Parents can excuse kids from school for a “vacation” in most states. There are no rules that say families cannot vacation together. So, why not suggest that your parents simply plan a vacation together to your next district event. If kids are on vacation, no school buses are required. Frankly, they should not have to do this, but… I tell must students that it is up to them to get themselves to events and expect them to show up at X time. I then leave it to the parents to figure out how to make it happen. (If I do anything to organize a carpool, I create liability for the district. However, if they do it on their own, no liability in incurred.)

  • I don’t favor the idea of getting the clubs out of schools. There is a lot more opportunity to “inspire” kids if they are in the same building as the club. We get to perform at assemblies, have an easier time presenting in elementary shcools, etc.

James’ teams getting the athletic director on their side is an excellent idea. I have been really lucky for the past 11 years, because our AD is awesome. Even before his daughter was on the team he helped me out by covering meeting when I was the only teacher involved and couldn’t make it. He is supportive and generally is in favor anything that gets kids more engaged in school. He is also an excellent source of knowledge about how things like trips and how volunteers are cleared to work with students. If you can get your athletic director as an advocate/adviser he or she can be a great help.

There are so many benefits to working with a school (visibility, recruitment, field trips, fundraisers, classrooms, computers, etc.). However, travel policies can cause a serious issue.

We have encountered several problems including not being able to secure a driver for the bus. For our Week 1 event at GSCR we had a bus and a driver but an impending snow storm resulted in the district canceling our school bus. If there’s no snow in Greenville, it doesn’t matter where we are. We lost the bus and parents had to drive their students to the event. We almost weren’t able to compete because the school district closed for less than 2" of ice/snow.

Moral of the story - make a budget that pays for a charter bus for every regional. Charter buses are super expensive this time of year so we try to travel with other teams as much as possible. That’s what we are doing for Peachtree and the World Championship. It saves money, builds team relationships, and abides by all the rules.

TL;DR snow and lack of school bus drivers means you should budget for a charter bus and try to ride with other teams to split the cost. Plan ahead!