On Campus: Bret Harte Elementary chess players qualify, but not going to nationals

Posted by Nan Austin on April 9, 2014 

Children at Bret Harte Elementary school in Modesto, Calif., are Hoping to go to the national tournament. (Nan Austin/naustin@modbee.com)

MODESTO BEE

The Bret Harte Elementary Chess Club faces a loss, this time because of moves made by the grown-ups.

The club’s bid for a five-day trip to the National Elementary Chess Championships in Dallas has been checked and probably mated. Modesto City Schools says the field trip request did not follow guidelines laid out in its administrative regulations. Specifically:

• No assurance of insurance and liability coverage made through the risk management office.

• No permission for fundraising activities to pay for the trip.

• Not enough details in travel plans, including meals, activities when not competing or a supervision outline.

• No waivers signed by the parents.

The request form, provided by the district, was submitted by club adviser Kevin Cripe, dated Feb. 28. It does contain travel and hotel information, but does not cover the points above. It also was not signed or checked as approved by Principal Steven Hurst.

The form was deemed incomplete and never submitted to the school board. Cripe and assistant coach Tom Crane took it to the board during an open comment period, but the issue was not on the agenda and not open to a vote.

The deadline for out-of-state trips is two months before departure, so it appears likely another year will pass before these capable second- through fifth-graders get their shot at national titles. Three of the girls rank in the top 125 female players in Northern California and were among 15 students and nine chaperones planning to go.

Concerns raised by administrators are the type of rules every high school booster club and FFA instructor have been well versed in following. The regulations were clear. Insurance coverage and fundraising rules exist for a reason: Things can and do go wrong.

Still, a sense of injustice hangs over the decision, with readers still calling and writing to ask what they can do, how they can help.

Novice groups and disengaged populations often face unexpected barriers when they do try to engage and excel. Without the traditions and networks of long-standing fundraisers, they don’t know what they don’t know, and feel set up to fail.

Modesto City Schools, whose elementary schools serve a population overwhelmingly poor – 86 percent of all its kindergarten through sixth-graders, 98 percent of kids at Bret Harte – now faces a reality check.

The district works mightily to get poor and other-language parents to join in budget discussions, participate at their schools and come to events on campus. Here those target parents were engaged and supportive and, right or wrong, there is a sense that the district pointed at its rulebook and walked away.

Yes, the buck stops at the adviser’s desk, but other administrative levels could do more. Better training for advisers and principals, for one thing. A Web page that lists common issues could serve as a one-stop shop for clubs: Fundraising requires these key steps, here are links to regulations and forms, field trip rules, social media guidelines, publicity tips and so on. An all-clubs network could be developed with monthly topics and a fundraisers calendar.

In the end, Dallas trip or no, the Bret Harte chess players will learn from this experience and hopefully hold true to its motto to never give up, even when the grown-ups let them down.

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