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Study Abroad Programs: What Heads of School Should Know

Joe Vossen, JD, CPCU
June 2021
Keys to ensure safe study abroad opportunities

Study abroad opportunities in independent schools will continue to increase. These complex programs enhance education but involve significant risk. News about health scares, travel problems, and student safety should give your Head of School pause before sending students abroad — particularly if your school is uncertain whether appropriate risk management practices are in place.

Whether your school offers study abroad programs or is considering them, be strategic and attentive to risk management. Centralized coordination of your school’s programs will ensure a consistent approach to risk management, including:

  • Identification of key risks
  • Assessment and understanding of the likelihood and impact of those risks
  • Implementation of steps to effectively transfer or mitigate risk

To help ensure safe study abroad opportunities, your Head of School can use the questions below to initiate meaningful dialogue with faculty or staff who manage the programs. These questions are intended to begin a discussion that increases awareness about risks associated with study abroad programs and the steps your school takes to address them.

Questions to Ask

  • What systems are in place to oversee our international programs and ensure we are aware of and effectively managing the risks? Who is involved and how does this work?
  • How are these programs proposed, approved, and canceled?
  • Does our school contract with third-party providers to operate all or any part of study abroad programs, such as transportation or housing? How are these third parties evaluated? How are contracts reviewed?
  • What criteria are used to select or reject program participants?
  • How are program leaders and chaperones selected? What are our school’s expectations of them, and how are they trained and prepared to meet these expectations? What is our student-to-adult ratio?
  • How are student and parent orientations conducted before departure? Are these orientations mandatory? Do they contain appropriate information about the risks specific to the trips?
  • Has legal counsel reviewed any waivers, releases, and assumption of risk forms that our school requires parents and/or students to sign?
  • How do we ensure our students are staying in quality housing overseas, including placement with appropriate host families?
  • How have our crisis response plans been adapted for incidents occurring during international travel?
  • Do students receive orientation or safety briefings when they arrive on site?
  • What additional insurance is purchased by the school, and what types of insurance are parents required to purchase for overseas trips?
  • How do we handle disciplinary issues while abroad?
  • How are trips evaluated to determine if they should be repeated or changed?

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