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School board votes to restrict travel amid terrorism fears

The Lake Superior School District board voted Tuesday to restrict students’ travel with the school to the U.S. and Canada, effectively cancelling a planned trip to Europe in late March for the district’s French and Spanish clubs.

District administrators brought the issue to the board’s attention after some parents expressed concerns about the potential safety of students in light of the terrorist attacks last month in Paris.

“The view of the board and administration, this trip is sanctioned, so our name is on it,” said Superintendent Bill Crandall. “We have to do what we feel is the best interests of our kids. It’s sad that we have to even make these decisions because we also feel that these experiences are very valuable for our students, but based on the status of what’s going on in the world, we felt the best scenario was to keep our kids closer to home.”

Three mothers attended the school board meeting to give their opinion on the issue. One supported the board’s decision but also told the board she would not allow her daughter to travel to Europe, regardless of the board’s decision. The other two wished to continue with the trip so their children could experience different cultural and linguistic differences in Spain and France. The board, administrators, parents and foreign language teachers in the district also discussed other potential destinations for the students including Montreal, Quebec, for the French students and Colorado, Miami, Orlando or even Puerto Rico for Spanish students.

Crandall said the response from all parents was mixed, some supported continuing with the trip, while others wouldn’t let their children travel to Europe under any circumstances in the current situation. Two participants from Williams Kelley Schools in Silver Bay had already cancelled their trip.

Betsey Mead and her daughter Lily, a junior at WKS, have been planning this trip for more than a year, making a $500 deposit they could lose if the trip is cancelled altogether and nearly $300 monthly payments to WorldStrides, the travel company the district used to help plan and coordinate the trip.

“WorldStrides is a well known and vetted organization and if they are not choosing to cancel, I think perhaps we should consider trusting in their experience,” Mead said. “They are not choosing to cancel, we are choosing to cancel.”

Mead said there is a greater risk of her daughter being injured on a school bus, which she uses regularly as a student and as a member of the basketball team, than of being a victim of terrorism. In addition, she said it can be just as dangerous traveling in the U.S. as it is to travel overseas.

“I think the statement that they are choosing to cancel it because of terrorism and perceived risk, that’s not in my mind a valid reason to cancel it,” she said. “You look at what’s been happening in the United States, and I think one could support a statement that said we should not travel in the United States given the number of domestic terror attacks.”

Mead went on to say that she certainly wasn’t advocating a ban on all school travel, but there is an acknowledged risk in any travel and hoped the board would not “bow down” to the perceived risk of terrorism. She also said a trip to Montreal could be a wonderful and enlightening experience, but it could not take the place of traveling overseas.

“I think there are potentially folks who may never have another opportunity to travel overseas by this cancellation and that saddens me,” Mead said. “There is such growth that can be found by spending time in another place and talking to other people and realizing how we are alike and how we are different.”

Mead said a trip to Quebec would expose students to a new culture and new places, but it would not fulfill the role of a trip to Europe and Canadian culture is still more similar to the U.S. than it is to those students might experience traveling in Europe. She also said students would miss experiences as simple as the thrill of getting on a jet and flying 12 hours across an ocean.

“I think we have to be careful as a society not to give in to what we see as risks, I think by choosing not to go to Europe we are supporting the aims of terrorists,” Mead said. “The goal is to change how we do things and I think it would be a sad loss if we chose to give into that fear.”

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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