- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

SOUTH WINDSOR, Conn. (AP) - In response to the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead, some school districts around the state are beginning to cancel student trips abroad before parents lose their deposits.

In Bolton, the school board last week voted unanimously to rescind approval for a student trip to London over spring break, with Superintendent Kristin Heckt citing student safety as the primary reason.

South Windsor Superintendent Kathleen Carter said her administration also would not recommend any student trips this year, and cancelled the planned April trip to Paris.

Suffield school board Chairwoman Jeanne Gee said the high school French teacher, Carl Casinghino, takes his honor students to France during April break every two years. The board had approved this year’s trip in the fall, but Superintendent Karen Berasia and Casinghino cancelled it following the Paris attacks.

“It’s very disappointing to them,” Gee said when students were informed two weeks ago, “But our number one priory is the safety and security of the students.”

Not all schools are following suit, however.

Ellington Board of Education Chairman Dan Keune said there have been no cancellations yet in that town’s schools.

And students in Windsor Locks also will be travelling abroad later this year. As of this week, there has been no discussion on canceling or making any itinerary changes, officials in that town say.

Adam Bickelman, spokesman for Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Education First, which plans many of the school trips in this country and abroad for Connecticut’s 200 districts, said the majority of schools here are continuing as planned with their trips, while others are making slight adjustments.

Bickelman noted the State Department has not issued a formal travel warning against trips to Paris or other European destinations. However, a lower-level alert is in place until February for travelers headed overseas.

“It’s very unfortunate that this is the state of world affairs at this time,” Heckt said, noting there was a reimbursement deadline that families had to consider.

Families of the 12 students headed to London were told to purchase the insurance covering reimbursement of paid funds over $500. Heckt reported that everyone was able to receive full return of all monies paid to date, and received a transferable voucher for the $225 cost of the trip insurance.

Carter agreed that besides safety, there were financial considerations to think of.

South Windsor also recently cancelled a trip to Washington, D.C., and making the decision now meant students lost only $18.

She said that even with an insurance policy, parents might be reimbursed only 50 percent of the cost of the trip, with the Paris excursion costing upward of $1,400, and the Washington, D.C., trip about $900.

That’s “still a significant amount of money for a family to lose,” she said, noting that as the trip drew closer, the potential loss of funds grew.

Bickelman said his company, which has regional offices in nearly every destination that it travels to, follows State Department recommendations when deciding whether to send a group to a particular destination. At this time, there are no plans to redirect or reschedule groups because of recent world events, he said.

However, groups requesting an itinerary change or cancellation are being accommodated through a number of flexible options, he said.

Immediately after the Paris attacks, Education First froze all cancellation fees to the end of the year. Those fees typically increase as a group gets closer to departure. Now, schools that have booked trips with their company have more time to decide whether to change their plans without further penalty as EF continues to confirm and purchase tickets and fares for cultural attractions, hotel, airline, and bus travel, absorbing much of that cost should a school drop out.

The company also is working with schools wanting to modify tour programs, going to Normandy, for example, instead of Paris, or even changing from international to domestic sites. Travel plans, which often are made up to two years in advance, also can be delayed, he said. If a trip is cancelled, students can take a full refund in the form of a transferable travel voucher for a trip to be taken at a later date with their school, or another local group.

“We are offering several flexible options to make sure that every student gets to have a safe and meaningful travel experience,” Bickelman said.

In the meantime, the company will continue to monitor the situation with its European offices and the State Department, he added.

Superintendents are also keeping a close watch.

“Next year we have several trips on the docket, and plans are continuing for those,” Heckt said of Bolton School’s future excursion. However, “we always have to be mindful of what’s happening in the world, and as things occur. Those trips will be assessed as time goes on.”

Robert Siminski, superintendent of RHAM regional middle and high school, said he has not made changes yet to three scheduled trips to Washington, D.C., Italy, and Spain.

“We’re waiting to see what happens with threats, and most districts are following that plan,” Siminski said. “Looking at it, with finances, we’re being extra cautious, trying to do the right things for everybody.”

Enfield Public Schools have three significant trips in the works right now- a three-week language program trip to Spain and France in the summer, as well as trips to Florida and possibly St. Louis, Missouri.

School Superintendent Jeffrey Schumann said he has no plans to cancel any of those.

“Right now everything’s a go, but if we feel there’s a risk, we’ll pull the plug on things,” he said.

Schumann said the required trip insurance gives him the freedom to make the call as late as noon the day before students leave, without any financial hardship for parents.

Manchester Superintendent Matthew Geary and Somers Superintendent Maynard Suffredini both said their respective school systems have no overseas trips planned for this year.

Precautions are being taken, however, as even local field trips can pose a security risk, Geary said.

“Everybody is certainly more mindful and cognizant these days,” he said, adding that plans for future trips would be taken “step by step.”

Suffredini and other superintendents said they too would monitor the climate and government recommendations for travel as future trips draw near.

“I understand that people are concerned, but we have to protect the quality of our life too, and not just hunker down,” he said.

Vernon Superintendent Joseph Macary said no overseas trips are planned for this year, but excursions to Bermuda and Canada are moving forward.

Although “safety is our number one priority,” Macary said, “I think field trips are a great educational experience.”

Tolland Superintendent Walter Willett agreed, saying that as of Thursday, his school system is not canceling domestic or foreign trips.

The administration is currently planning a trip to rural France, where Willett says students will experience an “awesome educational opportunity” that can’t be replicated in a classroom.

While troubling, the current state of the world is a fact of life, Willett said.

“We’ve had these kinds of incidents, unfortunately and sadly, for decades,” he said. “We can’t limit people’s opportunities because we are afraid.”

___

Information from: Journal Inquirer, https://www.journalinquirer.com

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