School trips abroad cancelled in wake of terror threats

Photo courtesy of // [Venice pictured above] School trips of Venice, Paris, and the Galapagos Islands have been cancelled for the 2016 school year.

Recent threats of terror in Europe and the Middle East have prompted Westhill faculty to cancel much-anticipated trips for students abroad. While the trips were school-sanctioned, the coordinators blame the city for the cancellations. Mrs. Costa Weller, coordinator of the Italy trip, attributed the cancellations to “the risk factor. It’s an unfortunate situation and given the risk factor involved, I understand why they cancelled the trip,” said Costa Weller, who also added that the trips were likely brought to a halt due to the district decision to defund insurance for the school’s travel abroad.

It appears that after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November of this past year, the concern over the trip to France has spread to nervousness about all of the school’s ventures overseas. The more recent attack in Belgium in March only served to further this anxiety over school travel.

Speculations about why trips were cancelled have run rampant up until this point. Teachers and students have wondered if the cancellations were due to the usual factors that cause gridlock in the school system. When asked, many teachers in the World Language Department did not have a definitive answer. Mrs. Popescu, French teacher, explored the potential causes for the trips being brought to a halt. “It could be the terrorists, social problems [abroad] or a lack of Board of Education approval,” she said.

The considerable cost of the trip (around $3000) was another of the discussed factors responsible for the termination of the three trips, along with a low level of student interest however both of these factors turned out to not have been a problem. Mrs. Costa Weller stated that the trips sponsored by the world language department to Italy and France, were both cancelled solely on the basis of the terror threats in Europe, and that attendance for the trips was not an issue.

Despite the apparent need for heightened use of caution in times of international terror, the complete termination of the three trips has left many disappointed, due to the popularity of Westhill’s foreign trips. In past years, such trips have been sponsored by the world language department and have included Italy, Spain and France. This year, Westhill had three international trips planned, two of which, Paris and Venice, were organized by the world language department. The third trip, a newly offered and exciting opportunity, was for AP Biology students to visit the Galapagos Islands.

The trip to Italy is among the most popular, according to Mrs. Petrizzi, another teacher in the world language department. Students who have attended the trip in years past have received opportunities to sample local cuisine, visit architectural and historical landmarks, and observe the culture that they learn about in school in a more hands-on way. Mr. Franchina, former chaperone of trips to Italy feels that this ability for students to learn about culture out of the classroom is invaluable.

Due to the cancellations,  “students will be missing learning about the cultures, whether it be going to Spain or Italy. Going [abroad], students experienced a wonderful time. We walked down streets that are over 2000 years old. You can learn about that in class but you cannot experience it,” said Franchina,.

Another unfortunate facet of the decision to put the school trips on hold is that the eagerly awaited and all-new trip to the Galapagos Islands will not occur. This trip was supposedly intended for biology students so that they could visit the location where Darwin founded the concept of descent with modification, and essentially developed the theory of evolution. As of now, there is no word on whether or not the trip will be offered again next year.

While there is little clarity in the matter of these cancellations, the fact remains that the decision was made by the district as a safety issue.  Until then, students and staff will have to make due with learning about foreign cultures in the more traditional way, with good old paper and pen.

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