Local school boards are taking a long, hard look at international field trips after major terrorist attacks around the globe.
The three divisions, Wetaskiwin Regional, STAR Catholic and Black Gold, all took a slightly different approach on the issue.
St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Division
STAR Catholic board chair John Tomkinson said the trustees discussed the issue of international trips recently, but the issue has always been in their sights.
“We’ve had a policy on the books for years,” said Tomkinson by phone December 21. He said the board always reviews international student and staff trips on a case-by-case basis and includes review of both content and destination.
Tomkinson noted that students, staff and parents all have a chance to examine proposed trips before any decision is made. “In fact, there have been trips in the past we have turned down,” said Tomkinson.
The STAR Catholic chair said he knows that the Paris terrorist attack affected international trip decisions across the province. Tomkinson said STAR Catholic will continue to do what it’s always done, but will also keep an eye on current events and keep things in context.
He said the division currently has two international trips approved, including a Leduc high school’s trip to Costa Rica for a social justice trip this coming summer and a European trip in 2017.
He added that the board understands the great learning and growth opportunities that international trips can offer STAR Catholic students.
Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Terry Pearson said the division will continue to let schools and parents play the lead role in organizing international trips, with Pearson reviewing the final submissions.
“Our position is it was a decision that was made by the school and the parents,” said Pearson by phone Jan. 5. “I support the decision of the parents and the staff.”
Pearson said the division also keeps watch of the federal government’s Foreign Affairs website that contains warnings and alerts for other nations.
The division is currently looking at several proposed trips, one of which was cancelled by the parents. Wetaskiwin Composite was planning on a trip to Thailand in 2016, but that’s been nixed stated Pearson.
He said another school is currently considering a trip to Montreal in 2016, and another is planning a trip to the United States in 2017.
Pearson noted the Wetaskiwin Regional board has delegated him authority for review of international trips.
Black Gold Regional Division
Black Gold Regional Division conducted some stakeholder consultation in December, including an online survey regarding international field trips. As a result, the BGRD board announced in a press release in mid-December the divisions international trips are on hold until the upcoming summer.
“In the wake of recent global events, the Black Gold Regional Division No. 18 Board of Education decided at its regular Board meeting on December 9, 2015 that all international student field trips will be cancelled until August 31, 2016,” stated the press release.
“The Board will review international travel in the new 2016 – 2017 school year, at their first regular Board meeting in September 2016. However, if the world climate continues to become more uncertain and unstable, the Board could review international travel earlier.
“Safety and the risks associated with student travel were at the forefront of the Board’s conversation. ‘We have an obligation to ensure we provide a safe and caring environment in Black Gold Regional Schools,’ stated Sandy Koroll, Trustee, Black Gold Regional Division No. 18 Board of Education. “We cannot risk the health and well-being of our students and staff.”
“The Board also took into account a recent survey that was conducted with the Black Gold community on this matter. Please see International Student Travel Survey Data for more information.
“Black Gold Regional Division No. 18’s Administration is working with all schools to communicate with parents, students, staff and travel agencies regarding the implications of the Board’s decision. ‘We are aware that some students and parents may be disappointed with this decision. However, this was not an easy decision to make. We had to consider several factors but first and foremost, student and staff safety needed to be our number one priority,’ said Johnette Lemke, Board Chair, Black Gold Regional Division No. 18 Board of Education.
“Schools, in consultation with the Division, will be preparing specific communication for those travel trips that have been cancelled. This communication will be circulated and shared with all those impacted as quickly as possible.”