School bans student from field trips

Monday, May 21, 2007
Kevin Phelps of Scott City sat at his computer Thursday at home. (Fred Lynch)

Scott City school officials have banned a state-award-winning high school student from attending a national Future Business Leaders of America conference this summer or going on any more FBLA field trips.

Kevin Phelps, 15, admits to violating curfew at a state FBLA conference while staying at a hotel in Columbia, Mo., in April. He said he doesn't know how he ended up outside his hotel room after falling asleep inside his room.

The punishment by school officials has angered and frustrated his parents, Robert and Diana Phelps of Scott City. They say the punishment doesn't fit the crime. They are appealing the decision to the Scott City school board.

"I could understand it if he was a constant troublemaker," said Robert Phelps. "But you are talking about a straight-A student."

The board will take up the matter behind closed doors June 20, superintendent Diann Bradshaw-Ulmer said.

School officials insist they acted properly. "As a general rule, if we have students who do not adhere to field trip rules or things like that, they are prohibited from going again," the superintendent said.

Bradshaw-Ulmer said she Bradshaw-Ulmer said she and other school officials won't discuss the situation publicly because of the federal education privacy law.

She said the decision is in the best interest of the school district and its students. "It is all about the safety of the kids," she said.

Kevin Phelps, a student at Scott City High School and a member of the school's FBLA chapter, won first place in the state on an exam on computer technology.

He attended the state conference in Columbia in mid-April to pick up his award. He was looking forward to attending the national FBLA conference June 28 in Chicago.

Kevin said he told his FBLA adviser that he woke up in the hotel hallway outside his room at 2 a.m. April 17. "I had no clue how I got out there," the teenager said at his home last week.

Three other boys from the Scott City FBLA chapter shared a room with Kevin.

He said he had earlier fallen asleep on the hotel bed fully dressed. He said he was wearing the same clothes when he awoke in the hallway.

He said he took out his room key, unlocked the door to his room and went back inside and back to bed.

Diana Phelps said the school's FBLA adviser told her that Kevin was asleep when she checked the room five minutes before the 1 a.m. curfew. Diana Phelps said the adviser, Donna Conaway, told her that two other students also were in the room.

A fourth student who shared the room was in another motel room dealing with FBLA matters. The adviser reportedly had given him permission to do so.

Reached at her Jackson home, Conaway refused to discuss the situation. She said the superintendent advised her to remain silent on the issue.

Kevin said Conaway asked him at breakfast April 17 what he was doing at 2 a.m. Kevin said he told her he might have been sleepwalking.

But Diana Phelps said her son has no history of sleepwalking.

She believes the boys who shared the room may have carried her sleeping son into the hallway as a prank. She said her son is a heavy sleeper.

Kevin thinks that's a possibility too. "Somebody could have probably carried me out," he said.

School officials haven't said why Conaway confronted Kevin at breakfast. Diana Phelps speculates that the boys who shared the room with Kevin must have seen her son return to bed after curfew.

Diana and Robert Phelps learned of the field trip ban in a letter dated May 3 from Scott City High School principal Kerry Thompson.

"There has been concern expressed regarding Kevin being out after curfew. We are accountable for our students and their behavior while they are attending conferences and field trips; for liability reasons we must take steps to keep the school and teachers from risk," Thompson wrote in a brief letter.

Diana Phelps said she and her husband met with Thompson and Bradshaw-Ulmer on May 7 in the school office.

Diana Phelps said she offered to chaperon her son on future trips, pay for a separate hotel room and even sign a waiver releasing the school district from all liability.

"He told me no at every turn," Phelps said. She said Thompson indicated that it would still be a liability problem for the school district.

Thompson refused to discuss the issue with a reporter. "It is a private matter," he said.

The Phelps say they're baffled by the actions of school officials.

"It just doesn't make any sense," Diana Phelps said.

Diana Phelps said teachers in the Scott City School District regularly sought her son's help when it came to using the school computers. She said her son has been building computer programs since he was 13.

"His goal in life is to compete with Microsoft," she said.

Kevin also is an active member of Lynwood Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau.

335-6611, extension 123

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