Field trips yielding to safety fears

Area schools worry about students amid terrorism threats

`A different time and age'

Balto. County board to vote on canceling overseas excursions

October 23, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston - concerned about student safety in light of terrorist attacks, anthrax scares and whatever fresh threat could be coming - is recommending that all foreign field trips be canceled for this year.

Harford County schools have gone a step further, canceling domestic trips to big cities - Washington, Philadelphia, New York and perhaps Annapolis - and instead choosing spots closer to home.

Schools have long sponsored trips around the country and overseas as extensions of what goes on in the classrooms - to France to practice French, to Italy to tour museums, to New York to see Broadway shows - and of what goes on outside the classrooms, such as drill team competitions in Florida and band performances in bowl-game halftime shows. Now, school officials from around the Baltimore area and the country are grappling with how to balance heightened worries about safety with the need to get out and see the world.

The scales are tipping toward safety.

"Do you want kids to have these experiences? Yes," said Lyle R. Patzkowsky, principal of Dulaney High School in Timonium, where several European trips were planned for the spring and summer. "Could we be putting them in harm's way? Yes. We're all living in a different time and age that's requiring us to do things differently. I bear responsibility for these children."

Tonight, the Baltimore County school board will vote on Hairston's recommendation, which includes canceling all foreign travel for the rest of the school year. Out-of-state and overnight field trips would be reviewed case by case. Trips that were approved would be reviewed again during the week of the trip. Day trips within Maryland would remain unaffected at this point, according to the recommendation.

Harford school officials are weighing whether to add Annapolis to the list of prohibited destinations, because it is prominent as the seat of state government and a potential target for an anthrax attack or something else, said schools spokesman Donald R. Morrison. Baltimore is still OK.

"You try to think of things a terrorist might think about," he said. "We can't know what tomorrow will bring, and a lot of trips are planned in advance. They can be safer with us.

"We are allowing trips to more remote areas. By that I mean a zoo in Cecil County, places in Delaware and places around our county and Baltimore County and nearby."

In Glen Burnie, North County High School rejected a trip to London scheduled for January. About 20 people, including teachers, parents and 10 students, were supposed to make the five-day trip. The group has decided it will stay in the United States and probably go to Seattle or San Francisco instead.

No complaints

"We had some safety concerns, and with all the uncertainty in the world, I think it's rather obvious why we canceled," said North County Principal Patricia Gronkiewicz, who made the decision to cancel. She said no one involved in the trip has complained about the change.

School officials in Anne Arundel and Carroll counties have left it up to principals to decide whether trips will proceed. In Howard County, not only are international field trips banned indefinitely, but any field trips outside Maryland are also subject to cancellation, school officials said.

"This whole incident is causing us to look at our field trip policy," said Roger Plunkett, Howard's assistant superintendent for school administration. "For the sake of our students' safety."

Lack of interest

At Loch Raven High School in Baltimore County, a meeting was held after the Sept. 11 attacks to gauge interest in the two-week trips to Spain and France taken by Spanish and French students in past years, said Principal Keith Harmeyer. "It didn't seem as if there was much interest," he said, noting that the reasons could be fear or the struggling economy, because the trips are costly.

The school's journalism students have an annual trip to the Newseum in Virginia scheduled for November.

That trip is still a go for now.

Sun staff writers Stephen Kiehl, Jennifer McMenamin and Tanika White contributed to this article.

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