Safety Concerns Prompt Schools To Curb Travel

By Mark Stricherz — October 03, 2001 6 min read
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The Rest of the Series Project SERV Funds Directed to Attacked Areas College Scholarships Planned for Children of Attack Victims Urban Districts Review Crisis-Response Plans in Wake of Terrorism For Student Journalists in N.Y.C., News Gathering Hits Close to Home Safety Concerns Prompt Schools to Curb Travel Terror Touches Schools

School districts across the country are keeping students close to home following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Many have banned trips abroad and even some local field trips.

Districts have scotched trips out of fears for students’ safety, as well as for their own possible liability if things go awry, administrators say. Some officials also cite respect for the victims of the attacks as a reason not to travel.

Travel by educators to conferences also has decreased in the wake of the assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and several education groups have canceled meetings.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, for example, has called off two meetings that had been scheduled for Oct. 18-21 in downtown Washington.

“The timing was just not very good,” said Betty Castor, the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based board, which certifies teachers who meet its national standards.

“Teachers were concerned about safety, and a lot of them were concerned about their special role in the classroom,” she said. “These are teachers, and they really don’t want to be apart from students at this time.”

Instead, the national board will hold two professional-development meetings for teachers early next year. Its annual board meeting will be held in Philadelphia the middle of this month.

Along with the teaching-standards board, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, and the Arts Education Partnership all called off meetings scheduled for this fall.

And the Close-Up Foundation, which runs civic tours for students in Washington, expects to see a drop in attendance this school year.

“I guarantee that our fall enrollment will be down significantly,” said spokeswoman Cindy McConnell. Ten schools have called off trips, she said, while another 11 have delayed them. She pointed out, however, that 85 percent of the foundation’s 2,000 school trips in the last academic year occurred in the spring.

Dozens of districts, meanwhile, have banned student travel overseas and, to a lesser extent, all student trips requiring air travel, said June Million, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Elementary School Principals, based in Alexandria, Va.

“All I hear is gloom and doom,” said Larry J. Liner, the president of American Tours and Travel, an Orlando, Fla.-based agency that books about 250 trips each year for middle and high schools. Mr. Liner estimates that his $10 million-a-year business will be off 20 percent for the next year, although he notes that student travel has grown “exponentially” in the past five years.

In Wisconsin, Wauwatosa East High School has canceled two student trips abroad out of concern for students’ safety.

The school’s orchestra was to perform this month in Dublin and London, while its concert band was to perform at a New Year’s Day parade in London. Students had spent two years preparing for the trips, raising money by selling pizzas and holding 14-hour “play-a-thons,” said Rob R. Engl, the co-director of the band, who would like the trips to go forward.

Superintendent Robert Slotterback of the 7,100-student Wauwatosa district said he had to rule otherwise, even though parents could lose as much as $150,000.

“I had to make a decision on whether it’s safe,” he said, “not on how hard they’ve worked.”

The school board upheld the decision, voting 5-2 in favor Sept. 27.

One of the New Year’s Day parade organizers criticized the Wauwatosa superintendent’s decision in sharp language. “He’s being a coward,” William A. Northen, the North American representative of the London Day Parade Festival, said of the schools chief. “He has not taken other people’s views into account,” he added.

Superintendent Slotterback countered that he had talked with parents, students, and teachers before deciding. Mr. Northen “has the parade’s interests at heart,” he said. “I have the kids’.”

Mr. Slotterback also cited a U.S. Department of State announcement on Sept. 12 urging “worldwide caution” for U.S. citizens and advising Americans to “maintain a low profile [and] vary routes and times for all required travel” abroad.

Still, Mr. Northen said, 22 of 26 American schools scheduled to perform in the London parade will continue as planned.

Last Thursday, President Bush announced new security measures for air travel and urged Americans to resume flying to U.S. destinations.

‘Not Responsible’

The 102,000-student Milwaukee district has banned student trips abroad until further notice, said Don Hoffman, the acting director of communication. “Obviously, there was concern about safety and that this was not responsible to have kids traveling,” he said.

In Gwinnett County, Ga., all overnight field trips for students must be cleared through the district’s central office. To secure approval for such trips, principals need to consult with a school improvement adviser, who reports to a district assistant superintendent, spokeswoman Sloan Roach said.

“We don’t want to take any chances with field trips,” said Ms. Roach of the 116,500-student system, located 20 miles northeast of Atlanta. One field trip that was canceled was Simpson Elementary School’s trip to downtown Atlanta to see a performance of “Sesame Street Live.”

The wariness about travel also has curbed exchange programs that bring foreign students to American schools.

North Andover High School in Massachusetts was among those. It won’t be playing host to the expected 22 German students who had planned to spend two weeks in late September and early October living with North Andover students. German parents anxious about their children derailed those plans, breaking a 12- year-old tradition for the school.

“Their concern was not exclusively safety,” said Artha Gerland, the chairwoman of the foreign-languages department. “It was more, how can we, looking at what happened, go as sightseers? They felt that to go would be kind of macabre, kind of voyeuristic.”

But 22 North Andover students still plan to visit Bonn, Germany, in the spring. “We’re listening to what our president is saying: that we need to get on with our lives,” said Principal Susan M. Nicholson. Additional student travel is planned this school year for Virginia and Spain, she said.

Losing Money

For education organizations, decisions to call off meetings were prompted by practical as well as emotional considerations.

“We started to realize on the Wednesday after the attack that it was not only a matter of not making money, but that we’d lose a lot of money,” said Brenda Lilienthal Welburn, the executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education in Alexandria, Va.

When 20 of 200 attendees signaled that the attacks would prevent them from traveling, the association decided to call the meeting off.

The decision was costly: Ms. Welburn estimates the association will lose $20,000 in staff time and for speakers booked for the event, which was to be held in mid-October in San Diego.

For the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, logistical worries were paramount, said Executive Director Kevin Jennings. The New York City-based group canceled its annual meeting set for Sept. 21-23, scheduled to be held in Alexandria, Va., within a few miles of the damaged Pentagon.

But officials with larger education groups said their annual meetings, many of which generate significant operating revenue and aren’t scheduled until next year, would be held as planned.

The American Association for School Administrators, based in Arlington, Va., has no plans to reschedule or cancel its annual meeting, to be held in mid-February in San Diego, said spokeswoman Barbara E. Knisely.

The AASA meeting can draw 10,000 educators and 1,500 vendors.

“It’s a larger part of our operations here,” Ms. Knisely said of the meeting.


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