Student travel programs can open a world of opportunities for students’ personal and educational growth. However, such programs bring risk to the institutions sponsoring them. Students can experience medical emergencies, crime or other situations that could result in liability issues for the schools behind the program.
For example, in one well-known incident, a school incurred $41.5 million in damages when a student suffered permanent injury after contracting tick-borne encephalitis during a month-long educational trip to China.1 The educational institution was deemed to have had a legal duty to warn and protect students against risk of serious insect-borne diseases when organizing the trip.
To keep student travel programs thriving, it’s imperative that educational institutions adopt risk management strategies specific to student travel programs.
Unpacking student travel risk management
Before approving any student travel, educational institutions should have a risk management strategy to identify, assess and mitigate potential situations.
To minimize risk for student travel programs, schools should keep in mind the following best practices:
- Research destinations. There are several important factors to consider when choosing a destination — political stability, prevalence of crime and the possibility of students contracting infectious diseases. Also, investigate cultural and linguistic differences affecting communication, procure safe transportation and accommodations, and make sure participants are aware of local laws and customs.
- Conduct proper pre-trip preparation. Travel coordinators should implement clear guidelines regarding potential hazards or risks. These guidelines should cover emergency protocols, cultural sensitivity, medical access, travel insurance and contingency planning. Families and students should be made aware of these risks as part of the pre-trip planning, while travel coordinators should ensure students obtain current passports, travel visas, vaccinations and relevant medical information.
- Screen chaperones. It’s essential to thoroughly screen chaperones. Examine their qualifications, interpersonal skills, reliability, health and fitness, background checks and training. In addition, ensure there’s enough chaperones for adequate supervision and support.
- Establish communication protocols. Institutions should establish communication procedures to monitor student activity, schedule check-ins with program staff and meet parents’ expectations. Student use of cellular phones raises the risk of theft, inappropriate use and interfering with protocols in the case of an emergency. Policies and procedures regarding carrying and using cellular phones should be communicated to students and families.
- Mandate travel insurance. All students should have comprehensive travel insurance that covers a range of potential risks, such as unforeseen medical expenses, trip cancellation or interruption, lost or stolen luggage and travel delays. Schools can purchase a blanket student, staff and volunteer policy that ensures the adequacy of coverage for all trip participants.
If students are traveling to an area where there is a higher risk of terrorism, kidnapping or political unrest, it’s advisable to procure kidnapping and ransom (K&R) insurance. K&R policies also assist in providing a destination’s threat assessment and often include overseas crisis response services.