If you are advocating for including experiential education in your school’s curriculum, we want you to know that the Fred C. Church Education Practice Group shares your belief in the importance of these learning experiences.

We have seen firsthand how incredibly powerful and formative experiential learning programs can be for the faculty, students, and families who participate in them. But we also understand the ways in which these programs can go terribly wrong. Before anyone from your school community participates in these types of experiences, it is essential to evaluate each program’s unique risks, including identifying and assessing threats and, if possible, reducing them to levels that are acceptable to your educational institution.

Top Risk Management and Safety Considerations for Experiential Education Programs

Whether your school is developing new experiential ed programming or is in the midst of evaluating the programs you currently have, it’s important to thoroughly review how your institution plans to manage the most common risks associated with these learning experiences.

Mark Vermeal, Fred C. Church Senior Safety & Risk Management Executive, has put together a list of questions related to three key areas of every program—educators, students and their families, and subcontractors and vendors—which may be helpful to use as an assessment tool.


  • Have you created specific policies and procedures for educators that clearly state the guidelines for experiential education programs and how they are to be conducted?
  • Do you have a comprehensive program approval process designed to assure that proposed experiences align with your school’s mission and risk tolerance and that they will deliver the desired educational outcomes?
  • Does the educator organizing the experience need and have relevant specialized technical skills and certifications (e.g., wilderness first aid and first responder, swiftwater rescue, or avalanche avoidance and rescue training)?
  • Has the educator ever traveled to the region of the country or world where the experience is taking place, and are they well versed in not just the language but also key cultural differences?
  • Is the educator securing the appropriate permits required for this experience if it is going to be on public lands?
  • Has the educator or staff member who might be driving during the experience been properly trained and had sufficient practice, including operating specialized vehicles (e.g., towing trailers) or driving on unusual terrain?

Students & Their Families:

  • Has a communication been sent to parents and students explaining why the school is taking an experiential approach to teaching and how it is going to help achieve even more positive educational outcomes?
  • Have participant permission slips been explicitly created for each program and its specific conditions?
  • Do you have your attorney review all student and parent agreements, such as the Acknowledgment and Acceptance of Risk/Liability Release?
  • Are students and their families adequately informed of the risks associated with each experience?
  • Will you provide students with any specialized equipment they may require for the experience (e.g., backpacks and snowshoes)?
  • Are you requiring parents to buy trip cancellation and interruption insurance, and, if so, will you provide them with a list of vendors for them to evaluate?

Subcontractors & Vendors:

  • Do you have detailed agreements with any vendors that are helping you deliver your experiential education programs, and do these agreements clearly outline who is responsible for delivering educational content, administering disciplinary actions, and managing an emergency?
  • Have you secured a medical advisor or are you working with a medical and security assistance provider, such as International SOS or On Call International, to provide important pre-trip medical advice and critical assistance in the event of a medical emergency, natural disaster, or other incident that puts your group in danger while traveling?
  • Are you using best practices for hiring vendors such as private transportation companies?
  • Is your third-party vetting process well documented so if an incident occurs involving a vendor or subcontractor, you can quickly pull up the company’s history, references, safety record, staff credentials and certifications, evidence of permits, and so forth?
  • Do you have a certificate of insurance (COI) from all vendors that lists you as an additional insured?

Before any program is given the green light, it is critical to work through these and other questions that may illuminate risk management issues that need to be addressed. Ultimately, performing this due diligence should result in an enhanced and safer experiential learning experience for everyone involved.

Have You Reviewed Your Experiential Education Program Plans with Your Insurance Broker?

If you haven’t already done so, it is essential to schedule a conversation with your insurance professional today to go over what you are planning to do, where you are planning to do it, and how you are planning to accomplish it.

At Fred C. Church, there are numerous ways we support K-12 independent schools, colleges, and universities as they design and implement their experiential ed programs. For example, we review all third-party insurance documents to make sure the limits of liability are acceptable, the school is appropriately listed as an additional insured, and any exclusions are uncovered and addressed.

In addition, we walk our clients through their general liability policy to ensure they clearly understand any risks that are excluded from their school’s coverage and help them make purposeful decisions about whether to take on the responsibility of this risk or find ways to mitigate or transfer it.

We also provide assistance with creating crisis response plans specific to these types of programs or, in the case where a client already has such a plan, we help identify potential weaknesses or missing details in their process and recommend strategies for strengthening it.

If you are thinking of starting an experiential education program or want to enhance your current one, we encourage you to reach out to our Education Practice Group, or call or email Mark Vermeal for assistance. As a leading provider of insurance solutions and risk management advice for experiential education programs and outdoor and adventure organizations, we will serve as an experienced and knowledgeable resource for you and an enthusiastic partner on this adventure.