Trip raises drinking concerns

Jesse Nadel

The school is investigating possible violations of the alcohol policy following the semester break trip to the Inauguration, Interim Head of Upper School Liz Resnick said.

An alum, who was not on the trip but in Washington D.C. and visited the travelling students, confirmed to the Chronicle that there was alcohol in one of the student rooms. A student on the trip also confirmed that there was drinking on the trip.

“This comes as shocking and disturbing news to me,” Visual Arts Department Head and chaperone Cheri Gaulke said. “I was not aware of any students drinking on the trip. All students signed an agreement that they would not drink alcohol and they would inform the chaperone if they were aware of another student drinking alcohol. Their parents cosigned that agreement. If, in fact, students violated their promise, I will be very disappointed.”

Although Former Head of Upper School Audrius Barzdukas told the Chronicle in 2015 that the administration would no longer allow outside vendors to serve as chaperones, and there must be at least two school teachers on all trips, Gaulke was the only Harvard-Westlake teacher present on the trip.

“A typical student to chaperone ratio is 10:1–15:1, although the ratio could vary depending on the nature of the trip,” Director of Kutler Center Jim Patterson said. “Second, a minimum of two adult chaperones, preferably one male and one female, should accompany each trip. That said, there are trips with only one chaperone.”

The school has had a history of drinking on school-sponsored trips. There were also complaints of alcohol being served to students during the 2015 trip to Cuba, after which Barzdukas made the policy changes; however, organizers disputed these claims.

In 2014, there were reports of drinking by Chamber Singers and musicians while on school-sponsored spring break trips in New York and Italy. The Chronicle reported at the time that the five jazz musicians, who were caught with bottles of wine in Italy, were given a one-day suspension on the trip and had senior privileges revoked. The international choir trip in 2015 was cancelled due to the reports of drinking.

Patterson said the school is not officially reviewing any policies regarding school-sponsored trips at this time, though President Rick Commons said the possible violations are a “serious issue.”

“Regarding the review of trip policies, we are not undergoing any formal review process at this time,” Patterson said. “We finished a formal review process last fall. However, we are always reviewing our policies and practices and make updates as necessary.”