Three Queen Creek High School sophomores who qualified for a world academic competition in South Korea are concerned they may not get a chance to represent their school.
Not only do the students have to raise the money for traveling expenses for the World Scholar's Cup, but two of them need to get expedited passports, and approval from the district school board.
The board has not been asked to approve an overseas trip, but it has been reluctant to do so in the past because of safety and liability issues, said Matthew Chicci, a Queen Creek High School science teacher and assistant coach of Academic Decathlon.
The students - Trevor Williams, Dylan Heimer and Kara Karaniuk - and Chicci will plead their case at Tuesday's school board meeting.
If they can overcome these hurdles, the students will be on their way to the World Scholar's Cup World Finals in Seoul, South Korea May 30-June 1. They would leave May 29 after finals on the last day of school.
They'll be competing against teams from 10 countries, including Japan, India and Australia.
Williams said the board should allow them to go on the trip for the experience and the reward.
"If the board wants to ever allow students to go for higher academic goals, we need to have a reward for it," said Williams, 16. "If they take it away, students are less likely to achieve."
Karaniuk even offered to do something special for the school board, if they approve the trip.
"There would be no incentive for us to, like, work so hard at this and then we get nothing," said Karaniuk, 16, who aspires to be a biologist or astrophysicist. "If they say yes, we'll bake them a cake."
Queen Creek school board member Dale Hancock said he's not sure if the board would approve the trip, but said he does have concerns.
"I've got concerns about sending students overseas in the current world climate and I'm concerned about their safety," Hancock said by phone Friday. "I am not a great believer in overseas travel for students.
"I just don't know at this point if I can agree to do something that I think is risky," Hancock said. "I know that many times students are deserving and have accomplished things where they get opportunities like this, but I think the board also has a responsibility as parents do with their welfare."
The team's coach, Kate Hope, said the trip would mean a lot to the school because its never been given an opportunity like this.
"It's something the school and the district really should be supporting," said Hope, who will not be able to go on the trip because she is expecting. "If the parents are supportive, then the board has no reason not to be supportive."
If the team does get the board's approval, the group has less than a month to raise the money and get passports.
The team qualified for the competition after placing 11th in the national competition in Tucson April 19. They competed against 22 teams from across the country. The competition, similar to Academic Decathlon, covers debate, essays, a multiple-choice test and a live tournament covering topics including science, math, history, literature, art and economics.
Eight other Valley teams qualified for the world competition, including Mountain View and Westwood high schools in Mesa.
The Mesa teams will not be attending the competition, however, because the teams couldn't get the trip on their board's agenda in time to meet the deadline. The coaches can't buy the tickets or submit contest forms until the board approves it, said Daniel Throckmorton, a senior on the Mountain View team, which placed first in the national competition.
"It's a series of unfortunate events," said Throckmorton, who also received fourth place overall in the individual awards. "I'm disappointed. Going to Korea would have been really, really cool. The only optimistic thing is we don't have to study anymore."
It's the first time the Queen Creek school competed in the World Scholar's Cup. Four groups of three students from Queen Creek High competed.
"We did not expect (to win)," Karaniuk said. "We were all shocked."
Hope said "the fact that they made it to go to Korea is pretty huge. That's another reason we need to be giving them the credit they deserve."
At least two East Valley school district board presidents said they would approve the field trip if students from their district were eligible.
"The world is getting smaller and there's opportunities presented far and wide beyond the United States," said Helen Hollands, president of the Gilbert Unified School District board. "It would be a shame to hold the students back."
The Gilbert school board had an extensive discussion and decision on out-of-country trips about three to four years ago when the board updated the district's field trip policy, Hollands said. Before that, the district did not approve out-of-country field trips.
"It has given us a better sense of safety by making it a district field trip because we can utilize all of our district policies," Hollands said.
Now, the board typically approves these field trips if it is for educational or competitive purposes, or for recognition. The trips are also encouraged to be on non-scholastic days, Hollands said.
Ed Moore, president of the Higley Unified School District, said the trip is a "wonderful experience for the students to go and experience another culture. I don't know why a board would refuse to allow somebody to do that," Moore said. "It's not like they're going to Tehran."
He also encouraged the students to go on their own, with a parent chaperone, if the board does not approve the trip.
"They are an individual organization that is not regulated by a school board," Moore said. "A school board has no authority over a booster club. If the kids aren't in a club, they could go form a club and just do it, if they go with their parents."
The Queen Creek group has to raise about $8,000 for expenses. Fundraisers are in the works.
Those interested in donating can send checks to Queen Creek High School, with Academic Decathlon in the memo field, at 22149 E. Ocotillo Road, Queen Creek, AZ 85242.