Top 20 School Trips Gone Wrong
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 School Trips Gone Wrong.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most infamous educational excursions from around the world that made headlines as a result of accidents, controversy or teachers’ bad decisions.
What’s the worst school trip you’ve ever been on? Narrate your experience in the comments below.
#20: Sunburn Blisters
In 2015, students of the Buile Hill Visual Arts College in Salford, England went on a school excursion to Spain. During their trip, they visited a water park in Barcelona, and were reportedly instructed to apply sunscreen beforehand. What should’ve been a fun excursion eventually took a blistering turn after a couple of the kids apparently disregarded these warnings and suffered severe sunburns. One student, Connor Pritchard, had to spend six weeks at the burns unit of Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital as a result. Pritchard’s mother accused the teachers of “total neglect,” but the school argued that they had clearly instructed students to carry sunscreen, and even made parents sign an agreement acknowledging that.
#19: Child Left Behind
When organizing a school trip for kids, maintaining a headcount at every step is essential. Teachers at Broadstone Middle School in Poole, England learned this the hard way during an excursion to London in July 2023. After an event-filled day, involving a River Thames cruise, a visit to Buckingham Palace and a viewing of the musical “Wicked,” the pupils returned to their hotel around 11pm. However, a boy who had dozed off on the way was inadvertently left behind on the bus and spent the night in the hotel car park. He was only discovered the next morning by the bus driver. Understandably, parents were outraged, prompting the school to apologize and launch an investigation into the incident.
#18: Lost in the Mountains
Venturing into the mountains with no map or compass often leads to one getting lost, as exemplified by this 2004 incident. During a hike to the Scottish Highlands, 39 students from the Beth Jacob Seminary for Girls in East London were led astray by an unprepared teacher. The group had reached the peak of a 2,500-foot hill, only to be disoriented by descending mist. Their teacher lacked any essential tools and even had to borrow a student’s phone to call for help. Shockingly, rescuers discovered the students dressed in skirts and trainers, without any form of protective gear. However, none of them was injured. When interviewed later, the rescue chief dubbed them the most ill-equipped group he had ever seen.
#17: Sainsbury’s Inappropriate Blunder
When pupils of Burton End Primary in Suffolk, England went on a trip to a Sainsbury’s outlet, they probably expected to bring back sweets. Instead, they were handed a book titled “How To Change The World For A Fiver”. While this may have seemed like a great way to promote a reading habit, the book turned out to be wildly inappropriate for children. It contained, among other things, illicit illustrations, as well as instructions on how to talk to strangers and hand them your phone number. After the mix-up came to light, Sainsbury’s apologized and issued one girl a £30 voucher to spend. Let’s hope they also didn’t mistakenly direct her to the adult section of the store.
#16: Field Trip to Hooters
A group of eighth graders from the Berwick Middle School in Pennsylvania got a little more than they bargained for while on a field trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. When it was lunchtime, the class of about a hundred students had to be divided into smaller groups and sent to different restaurants. As a result, one group of 15-20 students ended up dining at Hooters. The restaurant, which has gained far more recognition for its attractive waitresses than its food, was more than happy to welcome the kids. Although it seems none of their parents was bothered by the provocative pit stop, the school superintendent admitted that it was probably not the most appropriate choice.
#15: Toxic Waste Site
The ideal school trip balances fun and education. In 2012, an excursion organized by the Kettleman City Elementary School in California seemed to achieve this balance, albeit with an added layer of a health risk. The trip saw 83 students, from the fifth through eighth grades, take a tour through the Kettleman Hills Hazardous Waste Facility, to learn about better environmental practices. However, this move didn’t go down well with residents of the town, who were still in conflict with the facility over a spike in birth defects, which they attributed to their landfills. The management defended the trip, arguing that such visits were commonplace, and that written consent had been obtained from the children’s parents.
#14: Kids at the Adult Store
To present her students with more practical lessons, a sex education teacher at a Minnesota school decided to take them to an adult store. Starri Hedges of Gaia Democratic School took around 12 students on the trip, which was aimed at promoting healthy discussions about human sexual behavior. But it probably would’ve been a great idea to seek their parents’ permission first. Although Hedges claimed that nothing explicit was shown to the kids, that did nothing to quell parents’ anger. One father, whose daughters went on the trip, was so enraged that he removed them from the school. It may not have been the best excursion idea, but at least the kids learned a great lesson on consent.
#13: Segregation at the Movies
“Red Tails” is a 2012 war film about a group of African-American military pilots who overcame racial discrimination during WWII. The film’s themes were so inspirational that a school district in Dallas, Texas organized a field trip for students to see it at the cinema. However, the administrators decided to only take their male students and leave the girls behind. Their reason? There wasn’t enough space for everyone, and they thought the girls may not appreciate the war film. In total, 5,000 boys went to the movies, while the female students stayed back and watched “Akeelah and the Bee”. The move drew intense backlash, with many calling out the school for reinforcing stereotypes and discriminating against the female students.
#12: Cheaper by the Septet
What do you expect when you’re expecting your child back home from a school trip? Certainly not a grandchild. That was, however, the reality for seven sets of parents from the Bosnian town of Banja Luka, whose daughters embarked on a five-day school trip to Sarajevo, the capital city. The class of 28 girls had gone on an educational tour of museums and other historic sites. By the time they returned home, seven of them were pregnant. The incident drew national attention in Bosnia, which had seen a dramatic increase in teenage pregnancies. Understandably, the girls’ parents were furious over the seeming lack of teacher supervision. However, one government official believed that the blame should, in fact, lie with the parents.
#11: Cub Scouts Hike Leads to Nude Beach
In January of 2015, a group of Cub Scouts went on a hike through Torrey Pines State Park in San Diego, California. The group consisted of about half a dozen kids, their parents and the pack leader, Desmond Wheatley. All was well until Wheatley led the pack through Black’s Beach, which is typically populated with beachgoers who prefer to keep things natural. As a result, the kids encountered “dozens and dozens of nude people”. They could’ve turned back, but then, they’ll just be walking through the same wave of naked bodies. They say some sights cannot be unseen, but for the sake of these children, we hope this is not one of them.
#10: In the Trunk for Walmart
Sometimes hunger can lead to questionable decisions. In 2014, middle school teacher Heather Cagle decided to take 11 of her students on a snack run to Walmart. Without asking permission from their parents or seemingly considering the risks she was putting them in, the teacher had her students pile into a Honda Accord, with 2 in the front seat, 7 students crammed into the backseat and 2 riding in the trunk. After parents heard about the unapproved trip and the two additional students she left behind at the school, Cagle was eventually fired after a hearing. Maybe she should just order pizza next time?
#9: Hiking Fall
Aside from appearing in the cult classic show Twin Peaks, Mount Si is a popular destination for hiking and field trips. In 2016, two students were enjoying a hike with their cross-country team. When they split from the main group, one of the students fell 90-feet down the mountain, resulting in serious head injuries. Rescue crews were able to save the stranded student and airlift him to get medical attention, and fortunately, the student regained consciousness on the helicopter ride to the hospital. If they learned anything that day, it’s to stick to the main trail, and to stay with the rest of the group.
#8: Robbery in the Red Light District
The craziest thing you might expect to happen on a physics field trip is that a student makes some sort of scientific breakthrough. But while visiting the city of Geneva in Switzerland in 2005, two students decided to leave their hotel and research the local nightlife. Over the course of the night, they got drunk and one student got his money stolen from a worker at a nightclub. After their wild experiment was discovered the next morning, Swiss police were informed but decided not to press charges. The students were sent home early from the trip, and luckily did not experience any further mishaps from their misbehavior.
#7: The Most Wanted Donald Vasser
Pop quiz: If you’re a fugitive with more than 20 arrests under your belt for crimes like burglary, harassment and assaulting an officer, would you think it’s alright for you to chaperone a school field trip? If you answered yes, you may be Donald Vasser. In 2011, despite being featured on the TV show “Washington’s Most Wanted”, Vasser decided to provide assistance on his daughter’s elementary school field trip. Eventually he was recognized and reported to police, from whom he escaped after a short altercation. Vasser would turn himself in later that day. Although he failed to stay hidden, the biggest failure in this story is whoever conducted his background check.
#6: Pre-Teen Childbirth
In 2011, a 12 year old girl from the Netherlands was out on a school field trip when she started reporting serious stomach pain. Her teachers rushed to her aid and called an ambulance, with the staff realizing that she was actually in labor. Since there wasn’t enough time to get the girl to a hospital, the student ended up giving birth in a building close by. The baby was born healthy, and local Social Services staff was called in to take care of the infant and to investigate how the pregnancy occurred in the first place.
#5: After School Exposure
Garrett Stark was a part time employee with the Summer Adventure Day Camp in Rogersville, Missouri, which is an afterschool and summer program of the Logan-Rogersville School District. In 2016, he faced charges of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior with a minor after two of his students reported that he had exposed himself to them. The incident reportedly occurred while they were on the bus returning from a trip to the zoo. One of the students also claimed that a similar incident had happened prior to the events in question. Stark would later admit that he had exposed himself but denied the charges related to inappropriate behavior. After an investigation, Stark was arrested and later fired.
#4: Hotel Room Sex Tape
There are those adults who are a little too casual with the rules and then there’s teacher Michael Clarkson. While on a school trip to Portugal in 2006, Clarkson allowed his students to stay up past curfew and drink alcohol. If that wasn’t enough, when one of his male students returned to have sex with a woman, Clarkson allowed them the use of his hotel room. During the course of the night, the student discovered he was being secretly filmed. By reviewing the videotape, it was clear that Clarkson was the one who set it up. After school officials heard what had happened, there was a hearing that led to Clarkson being fired and banned from teaching for 4 years.
#3: CSI: Fort Lauderdale
Ever wondered what it would be like to be on “CSI” or one of its many spin-offs? A Florida high school summer criminology class got their chance back in 2006. Their teacher, Sue Messenger, had set up a mock crime scene with fake evidence and so on in a park. While looking around, a student noticed a hand clutching a fence. Upon taking a closer look, the students realized that hand belonged to an actual corpse. After their teacher confirmed it wasn’t part of her lesson, the police were called to investigate. It was later determined that the man died of natural causes, with the students getting a firsthand, if somewhat ironic, experience of a real crime scene.
#2: Underground Railroad Re-Enactment
In 2012, while on a trip to Nature’s Classroom in Massachusetts, a 7th grade class from Hartford, Connecticut learned about the Underground Railroad - by reliving it in real time. During the field trip, students reportedly were forced to pretend to pick cotton, stuffed into a dark space as if they were on slave ships, had to hide from the instructors who were acting as slave masters and were allegedly called racial slurs. After the trip, the parents of an African-American student that attended filed a complaint with the school board. The director of the Nature’s Classroom defended the activity, but said that changes to the program would be made.
#1: Brain at the Morgue
Two months after fellow student Jesse Shipley died in a car crash, students of a Staten Island forensics club took a field trip to a morgue in March 2005. During the visit, the students were shown the brains of deceased people in jars. They soon noticed that one of them was labeled with the name of their recently deceased classmate. After the brain was confirmed to be his, the parents of the deceased student sued the city, and the organ was returned to the family. They reburied it with their son to gain closure and to ensure that no student ever has to have a field trip go as badly as this one.