Balto. Co. schools' trip ban criticized

Policy `overly cautious,' some parents complain

April 02, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's recent decision to cancel out-of-state field trips because of the war with Iraq has infuriated many parents, including some who have decided to privately send their children on a trip to England anyway.

Complaints to school officials prompted modification of the ban yesterday to allow trips to sites in neighboring states, but not to Philadelphia or Washington.

Last week, Hairston sent parents a letter notifying them that all out-of-state and foreign trips were canceled indefinitely for safety reasons. He amended the ban yesterday to allow trips to Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

"During these unsettling times, our attention is drawn, as it should be, to the safety and well-being of our children," Hairston wrote.

But some parents and school board members criticized the ban as unnecessarily broad and cautious. They said it hurts the education of children whose excitement for trips had been building throughout the year.

"We definitely want to fight this," Frank Ambrosino, president of the Vocal Music Boosters Club at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, said last week. He said the club will lose $24,000 in deposits for a music competition in Tennessee.

About 300 music students had planned to go to the competition this month, which the school participates in every year. Ambrosino said planning began in May and students have been raising money since the summer.

John A. Hayden, a school board member who has spoken out on the issue, said parents should decide whether to send their children on trips. He said he opposed strict rules based on state lines. "You can go out 200-some-odd miles to Western Maryland, but you can't go to Philadelphia?" Hayden asked.

Anne Arundel County schools have banned all trips outside the United States and Canada, by plane or boat, and to New York and Washington. The Howard County school system has barred all foreign travel, while Carroll County schools are allowing trips only in Maryland. Harford County school officials have canceled travel to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, and they are reviewing all other trips on a case-by-case basis.

The Baltimore County school system's travel policy has been in flux since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which prompted a ban on overseas trips last school year. That ban was lifted in the fall, but trips had to be approved by school officials on a case-by-case basis.

As part of the trip approval process, parents were urged to buy travel insurance in case their trips were canceled.

Sanford V. Teplitzky, a school board member who opposed an outright ban, said he favors a case-by-case approach, though he agrees foreign travel should be canceled.

"We should be safe, cautious but also recognize there is tremendous educational benefit to these trips," he said.

There were 17 out-of-state field trips involving nine schools and hundreds of students planned for this month. Charles A. Herndon, a spokesman for the school system, said the superintendent barred trips to Philadelphia and Washington because of the risk of terrorist attack.

"Places like Washington have in the past been targets of terrorist activity and may in the future be targets," Herndon said, adding that overseas trips were banned because of the heightened risk accompanying travel abroad.

But nearly all parents of eighth-grade band members at Ridgely Middle School have decided to send their children privately to England, Wales and Iceland over spring break next week. The travel originally was to have been a school trip.

On Monday night, the parents met to discuss the travel ban, and most decided to let their children go, said Jan Brinch, whose son David will be traveling. About 80 students and 40 chaperones will go; about a dozen students withdrew. Brinch said each traveler would lose $2,400 if the trip was canceled. Some additional costs were offset by funds raised by Ridgely students.

"There's nothing to prevent you from taking a trip as an independent person, and that's what we're doing," said Brinch, who called the foreign travel ban "overly cautious."

Sun staff writers Tricia Bishop and Laura Loh contributed to this article.

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