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In Seattle, teachers are going rogue just to take kids on a field trip

Danny Westneat, The Seattle Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

Craig MacGowan is a bit of a living legend in local science-education circles.

He created "Mac's Field Guides," handy laminated primers to the Northwest's birds, trees and marine creatures. But mostly he's known for "Mac's kids" -- the more-than-2,000 Seattle high-school students, now all adults, he led on science trips during a four-decade teaching career in Seattle's public schools.

"Ecuador, Kenya, Australia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, we had science adventures absolutely everywhere," recalls MacGowan.

MacGowan, 76, is long retired. But he's been unexpectedly called back into service for a reason that's unusual, but also won't surprise anyone who has dealt with the sometimes soul-crushing bureaucracy of Seattle schools.

This spring MacGowan will lead what amounts to a guerrilla field trip. It's 40 Garfield High School kids in the oceanography classes going to Maui, Hawaii, in April to learn firsthand about marine science. But bizarrely the kids have to skip school to do it, and their current teacher has been barred from going, because the entire trip is happening without the consent of Seattle Public Schools.

"It's insane it seems to have come to this," MacGowan says.

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Since the 1970s, marine-biology classes at Garfield have raised money through the year for a chance to go study in the wild the sea life they've seen mostly on videos or preserved in glass jars.

This year, after parents had paid deposits for the trip, it was canceled. Apparently the district wanted an administrator to go along (normally it operates with the teacher, Jonathan Stever, along with some college-level marine biologists as chaperones).

A district official said in a recent email to parents only that "specific conditions were not met, which resulted in the cancellation of the trip."

It was too late to get parents their $200 trip deposits back. So after what he described as "a long battle with the district continuing to challenge our trips," the teacher, Stever, switched control of the trip outside of the school altogether, to a wilderness-education group called Post 84 that's affiliated with the Boy Scouts.

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