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Horizon School Division unfazed by terrorism; keeping status quo on international field trips

Posted on December 11, 2015 by Vauxhall Advance

Nikki Jamieson
Vauxhall Advance

Despite growing concerns on terrorist events overseas, the Horizon School Division is not cancelling any school trips just yet.

“We did have a conversation (a few weeks ago), with all our school’s administrators,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent for Horizon School Board. “Around what the cancellation policies are, in terms of the trips that school’s are organizing… We recognize the benefit of cultural experiences and cultural exchanges, so working and keeping close eyes on travel advisories by the government, and should any kind of recommendation from the government that say ‘travel is not advised’, we would immediately cancel those trips in those locations.”

Many school divisions in Medicine Hat, Calgary and Edmonton are cancelling trips abroad in light of the recent terrorism attacks overseas, and have rerouted some international trips to be closer to home instead. Lethbridge School District No. 51, while not cancelling trips just yet, has made the call to change a trip to go to Paris to Quebec instead. All have cited student and staff safety as the reason why.

In recent weeks, a terrorist attack in Paris killed 130 and left hundreds more injured, with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claiming responsibility. Since then, Brussels, Belgium went under lockdown, Beirut, Lebanon had twin suicide bombings, thousands are fleeing Syria and the shootings in San Bernardino, California being investigated as an act of terrorism, and these are just some of the worrying events.

School trips are organized through international education tour companies. While they often have policies that would allow you to reschedule in case of political unrest or terror, you will often lose your money on airline tickets. Travel insurance can help you recoup at least some of that loss, but different companies have different policies, and in the case of acts of terrorism causing cancellations, they might not have the same definition as you.

“We’ve asked schools to explore what those different policies are, and make sure parents are fully aware what those policies are,” said Tymensen. “We would look at, “Do we feel the safety of our students and our staff are in jeopardy?” And if we believe they are, we would cancel that trip, and would communicate that to parents as quickly as possible. Parents would have already been informed previously what those cancelation policies are. In many cases, there may be costs that are not refundable, because of last minute cancelation.”

“When it comes to losing a few hundred dollars, or placing a student in jeopardy, as a jurisdiction, we know which one of the two we would make a decision on. Safety comes first.”

Travel to Syria has been banned, along with most middle-eastern countries, according to the Canadian government’s travel advisory. The United States is still considered safe to travel to, but there is an advisory warning people traveling to France and Belgium to exercise a high degree of caution.

“We don’t have any schools planning a trip to France this year, it, in sense, is a positive, because we don’t necessarily have a concern over that,” said Tymensen. “I would say that, if a school was to come forward right now and say, “We would like to do a trip to France this year,” my recommendation to them would most likely be look for a better place to go. There are safer places in the world at this point.”

In total, as of Dec. 4, only 108 countries have been deemed safe to travel while exercising normal safety precautions, with six of those having regional advisories. With 229 countries on that list, that means 111 countries have been deemed high-risk or are recommended against travelling to.

There are four international trips currently planned for the school year in HSD, two of which will be to Europe.

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