While students from another country attending local schools can add to the experience of both students from Watertown and the one from abroad, legal liabilities may stand in the way of the Watertown Public Schools accepting foreign exchange students.
On April 22, the School Committee discussed the issue of how to accept foreign exchange students, but continue to be stymied by the legal issues.
The problem arose when the School Committee looked at updating the policy for foreign exchange students to require them to be living with a legal guardian. School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer, who chairs the Policy Subcommittee, said that poses a problem with the companies running the exchanges.
“Under these programs what we found out — many times — the program does not designate the host family as legal guardians, and they (the programs) are not the legal guardian,” Hsu-Balzer said. “It is kind of a limbo land — there is not legal guardian.”
However, if the district adds the requirement of living with a legal guardian, it may mean that the programs organizing foreign exchange students would not send them to Watertown, Hsu-Balzer said.
A legal guardian is needed, Hsu-Balzer said, because there could be situations when they are called upon, such as with a medical issue, disciplinary problem, or even financial situation. If there is no legal guardian, Hsu-Balzer said, it could leave the Watertown Schools legally liable.
School Committee member Lindsay Mosca asked why the foreign exchange student’s parents could not act as the legal guardian. Hsu-Balzer said there are some instances where that would not work.
“(For instance,) someone needs medical treatment and something needs to signed by a legal guardian, and the legal guardian is living in Oslo, Norway,” Hsu-Balzer said.
Other foreign exchange students, such as those who live with a family member or friend in Watertown would not be impacted by the policy, Hsu-Balzer said, because the host family would serve as the guardian.
Town Council President Mark Sideris said that he would not feel comfortable making any decision without getting an opinion from the Town’s attorney.
“Depending on what comes out of that, we may not want to approve this policy,” Sideris said.
The School Committee agreed to take up the issue again after hearing from the Town’s law firm.