GROTON -- Not without some resistance, a majority of members of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee voted to change an earlier decision regarding a proposed trip to Italy by students in the high school's music program.
At a meeting held earlier in the year, when the proposal was first brought to their attention, committee members surprised supporters by voting against allowing the students to go on the European trip.
Determined to have the School Committee revisit the issue, parents organized over the summer months, conducted a survey to get a sense of support for the trip and laid plans to perform whatever fundraising was needed.
Returning before the School Committee at a meeting held Sept. 11, the parents convinced members to reconsider their previous vote.
The two sides reconvened Oct. 9, when parents, led by Lisa Souza and Tim Mahan, confirmed strong support among their fellow parents and asked again that the trip be approved.
Backing up Souza and Mahan were a score of students from the music program who crowded the high school library where the meeting was held.
Committee members James Frey and Leslie Lathrop, who had voted against the trip the first time, voiced the same concerns they had then, with Frey wondering about the 20 percent of parents who failed to respond to the survey.
"What have you done to fill in that blind spot?" asked Frey.
Mahan replied that 80 percent was a solid response to the survey and enough to convince everyone that the trip had sufficient support.
Lathrop, as she did the first time the issue came up, wondered about those students who would be left behind.
Mahan noted that they would share the same curriculum as those who were going on the trip and would, in any case, need to attend only one day of school while the others were in Italy.
Pressing her case, Lathrop wanted to know how a jazz band could perform if half its members did not go on the trip.
Music director Timothy Savoy replied that if not enough students sign up for the trip, there would not be one. But they needed to get approval from the School Committee before they could find out exactly how many students want to go.
"Then I make the decision (whether to go)," concluded Savoy.
Lathrop, addressing one of the arguments made in favor of the trip, told those students attending the meeting not to worry about their resumes; that after checking with a pair of music schools, she was told its absence would not affect their chances of admission.
In support of the trip, former committee member Berta Erickson lauded the district's music and arts program, the fruits of which everyone was finally able to enjoy.
Calling the trip an educational experience, Erickson urged the committee to support it.
After a motion was introduced to approve the trip, assistant superintendent Kerry Clery told committee members that in the future, the administration would move more cautiously in allowing requests for field trips to come forward, making sure that the emphasis remained on their educational value to students.
Committee member John Sjoberg, in making the motion to approve, recalled his own experiences when in school and called such a trip something students would remember for the rest of their lives.
"I believe that this (trip) has educational content, perhaps more than others," declared committee member John Giger, insisting that parents had the right to decide for themselves whether their children should go on such a trip.
"It's not our job to make that decision for them," he said.
Then, as a vote was finally called, Lathrop, in protest at not being allowed further questioning on aspects of the trip others felt were unrelated to the issue at hand, left the meeting.
In her absence, the six remaining members, including Frey, who had originally joined Lathrop in voting against the trip the first time, joined the rest of the School Committee in its decision to approve the Italy trip.
"I'm very happy," said Mahan following the vote. "The whole point of our work over the summer was to prove that there was parental support behind the trip and that it was up to each parent to make their own decision about it."
Interestingly, the School Committee was called upon to make a decision on another planned field trip, this time for eighth-graders to go to Washington, D.C., over the week of April 22.
But there, too, there was a problem, as it was made known that one day of the trip would take place over one of the Jewish holy days of Passover.
Although it was not clear if any of the 40-50 students were of the Jewish faith, committee members chose to delay a vote until their meeting of Oct. 23 pending more information, including whether the trip could be shortened by a day to prevent a conflict.
Also at their meeting of Oct. 9, the School Committee heard from the Prescott Re-Use Committee about how plans for the building have been proceeding.
Committee chairman Halsey Platt said a plan to develop the former elementary school building as a hotel or bed and breakfast fell through when it was learned that a developer intended to rebuild the Groton Inn across the street.
As a result, the town hoped to issue a new open-ended request for proposals.
What the committee wanted to know was if the school district had any thoughts about keeping its administrative offices at Prescott beyond the summer of 2014 and eventually paying market-rate rent there. If so, town officials believed that it would be a good selling point for the RFP if it could be said that purchase of Prescott came with an existing "anchor tenant."
But school officials did not have a ready answer for Platt with Clery, saying that the issue had not yet been discussed. An answer would not be forthcoming for at least a couple of months.