International trips back on for students in the region, board decides


A controversial decision to halt overseas trips having been reconsidered, the Waterloo Region District School Board is still focusing on safety when it comes to students leaving the country.

With a change in political climate in the United States, and government warnings about travel to some European countries, WRDSB spokesman Nick Manning says there are many factors to consider when deciding if some trips will go ahead as planned.

Currently, all international trips are a go for district students, but that wasn’t always the case.

“We made the decision earlier in the school year to cancel trips to Belgium and France, and then at the request of parents, students and teachers, reviewed the decision and that was all about making sure that we preserve that safety of all of our travellers.”

Elmira District Secondary School students are scheduled to hop on a plane headed for France and Belgium next month, along with hundreds of other students across Canada, to commemorate the anniversary of Vimy Ridge. Currently, the Canadian government warns travellers to, “exercise a high degree of caution,” due to the terrorist attacks in Belgium and France in the last couple of years.

Manning says the trips could still be cancelled if the government decides to advise against unnecessary travel to students’ destinations.

“With trips going overseas and within Canada, we are constantly monitoring these trips and changing them if there is a change to the security situation at the destination, that would prompt us to reconsider,” he said. “For example, if the government of Canada changed the travel advisory to warn against non-essential travel, that would prompt us to cancel trips. We want these trips to go ahead and give the students really rich learning experiences, but we need to make sure that we can preserve safety.”

The board is taking a few extra precautions for student travelers and their families after reversing the decision to cancel the trips.

“It is not policy at this point, but what we did do for the trips that are traveling to Europe, is we put additional risk mitigation measures. We have asked the supervisors of those trips to take training to identify risk and to manage it overseas,” said Manning. “We have worked with our insurance providers to make sure we have the right levels of insurance, the students have got travel tips and have taken a workshop as well, so they know how to act.”

When it comes to travelling across the border to the United States, Manning says it is less about safety and more about uncertainty. EDSS does not have any trips to the U.S. on the books at the moment, however, there are nine other trips planned for schools in the district.

“Most of it will be crossing a land border on busses. We haven’t yet asked those trips to take international travel workshops, but we are making sure, for example, that they have got a good understanding of the plans on the trip, roaming plans for cell phones and those kinds of things. Then we work through individually what steps they will take if they do find a problem at the border. One of our trustees, John Hendry, raised the question a couple of weeks ago, ‘what would happen if one student is turned back at the U.S. border?’ That is for individual schools to decide.”

Manning says he hasn’t seen an example of a student backing out of a trip due to security and safety concerns, yet.

“We just want people to think that through and make a conscious decision about how they engage in these trips and I think that we are seeing people do that across the board, very successfully,” he said.

Liz Bevan
Liz Bevan is a reporter and photographer for The Observer. She has written for community newspapers in western Canada and has been published in national newspapers and magazines.