LEWISTON — The School Committee on Monday night voted to approve the first of two readings on sweeping changes to the School Department’s field trip policy.

The stricter trip rules are in response to the death of 13-year-old Rayan Issa, a Lewiston Middle School student who drowned June 12 during a school outing to Range Pond State Park in Poland.

Issa was retrieving a football in water over his head, a report by the Lewiston School Department’s lawyer concluded. No adult or the lifeguard saw him struggle in the water.

One question members wrestled with Monday night was whether to ban field trips to water parks. For now, senior class trips are allowed to go to water parks because they are 17 and 18 years old and are days away from graduating.

The senior class asked Monday night for approval to take a trip to Six Flags amusement and water park in Massachusetts in May.

Superintendent Bill Webster reminded committee members a best practices report highlighted concerns of water parks, and recommended that students show proof they can swim or wear life jackets they bring. That may be hard to enforce, Webster said.

Committee member Mark Cayer said water parks “are inherently dangerous,” that a youngster may go down a 100-foot slide because of peer pressure.

Member Tina Hutchinson disagreed and said the ban “goes too far, and is an overreaction to one tragedy. Amusement parks are probably safer than flying across the ocean to Paris,” she said, referring to the committee’s unanimous vote moments before to allow the high school Travel Club to go to London and Paris in April 2019.

More stringent field trip rules “is a hard area,” Webster acknowledged. If Lewiston’s new policy is compared to what other school districts across the state have, it could be described as an overreaction, he said.

Other districts, including the Bangor School Department, are considering adopting stricter field trip policies.

“I’ve gotten calls from other superintendents” asking what Lewiston is doing, he said. “More than one has said: ‘It could have just as easily been us.'”

Webster said the committee also needs to consider the makeup of Lewiston’s student population, which has a high percentage of students from immigrant families who may not have experience swimming.

“Probably all of us have grown up with the basic concept” that water in the lake or ocean gets deeper as you wade in. “But if someone hasn’t had any water exposure, why would you think that?” Webster asked.

Assistant Principal Jay Dufour and senior class officers Shawn Michael Chabot, Hunter Steele and Kaylyn Ritchie assured the committee that safety will be a priority, and the trip will meet requirements of the new policy.

“Safety is our biggest concern,” Chabot said, sharing details he researched of Six Flag’s safety procedures and how Six Flags lifeguards are routinely tested.

The School Committee approved the trip.

The new policy, which needs one more reading and a vote, says:

• No swimming is allowed on field trips, unless swimming is supervised and controlled by an authorized organization that has water safety expertise, such as the YMCA, YWCA, Bates College, University of Maine 4-H Camp & Learning Center in Woodstock.

• Students on trips to a state park where there’s no authorized organization with swim safety may go into the water but only up to their knees.

• Parents will be provided with detailed consent forms that more clearly explain activities and risks. That information will be given or translated in a language parents understand.

• Boating activities will not be allowed unless supervised by an authorized organization or a qualified Maine Guide.

• Students on all field trips will use a buddy system, and meet to go over rules before trips.

• All field trips will have at least one adult trained in CPR and basic first aid, and the ratio will be one adult for every 10 elementary students, one adult for every 15 middle school students, one adult for every 20 high school students.

• In addition to parents, field trips will have four levels of approval, the classroom teachers, building principal, the superintendent and finally the School Committee.

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