Terrorism fear prompts schools to cancel trips WAR IN THE GULF

January 21, 1991|By Lynda Robinson and Rich Scherr

Worried that Baltimore and Washington could become the targets of terrorist attacks, school officials in Frederick and Carroll counties have decided not to let their students travel to either city for field trips or athletic events.

Frederick County Superintendent Noel T. Farmer, who called off trips to Baltimore and Washington Friday, said the war in the Persian Gulf made the precautions necessary.

"We feel there is the potential for worldwide terrorism, especially in the Washington and Baltimore areas," Mr. Farmer said.

So far, Frederick and Carroll are the only school systems in the Baltimore area to call off trips because of fears of terrorist activity. But Harford County school officials plan to review their policy tomorrow morning, and Montgomery County officials have canceled all foreign trips by students scheduled for the spring break.

Carroll County Superintendent Edward Shilling said he made the decision to cancel field trips to Washington and Baltimore as soon as war broke out last week. He was not certain how many of Carroll's 22,000 students would be affected by the decision, which he said will be re-evaluated at the end of the month.

In Carroll, the new policy only applies to field trips because the county's high school teams do not play in Baltimore.

But in Frederick County, the policy prevented eight high school track teams from participating in Saturday's Maryland National Guard Indoor Track Scholastic Games at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore.

The county's abrupt pullout caught meet officials by surprise as hundreds of athletes converged on the armory from 75 other teams.

"Not only were we eight teams short, but we ended up short on officials," said meet director Ed Walker. "We also had no electronic timer at the finish line because people from Frederick County were supposed to bring that."

John Grim, track coach at Linganore High School in Frederick, said the meet wouldn't have been held if the National Guard thought students would be at risk.

"If the military felt it was safe to hold the meet, I couldn't understand why our county felt a danger," he said. "I quite frankly was puzzled."

The policy may make it impossible for Frederick County to hold its indoor track and field championships, which are scheduled Jan. 30 at the Baltimore armory.

Mr. Grim, who helps organize the meet, said it may be possible to move the event to Hagerstown Junior College. But he hoped the county would ease its restrictions if no other site can be found.

Mr. Farmer, Frederick's superintendent, said he expects some criticism of the policy when school reopens tomorrow. But he and other school officials said they felt they had made the right choice -- at least for now.

"We'd only like to have [the policy] in effect as long as it's necessary," said Dan Garrett, Frederick's director of transportation. "It could be very short term or it could be months."

Other school systems, including Howard and Baltimore counties, are reluctant to cancel trips or make any other changes that might frighten students.

"We're certainly not going to keep kids from going to the nation' capital or on any other field trips," said Richard E. Bavaria, a spokesman for the Baltimore County school system. "We've had no indication of unsafe situations. We've had no threats. We're trying to make kids feel comfortable in our schools."

In Anne Arundel County, officials have left the question of field trips to the discretion of individual principals, said school system spokeswoman Nancy Jane Adams.

A memo was sent to principals reminding them of existin security procedures, Mrs. Adams said. It also outlined safety guidelines for field trips, including keeping students in one large group, bringing along enough chaperones and checking buses for unidentified packages or bags before students board.

"At this point, we're playing it day by day," Mrs. Adams said. "The rules can always change if there's any terrorist actions in the United States."

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