The School District 69 Board of Trustees will take up the issue of overseas field trips during next Tuesday’s meeting at the Forum in downtown Parksville.

THURSDAY SPOTLIGHT: Qualicum school board will debate safety of international student trips on Tuesday

Nanaimo-Ladysmith District placed two-year moratorium on trips abroad after calling students back from a trip to France

The future of international field trips by students will be at the top of the agenda when the School District 69 (Qualicum) Board of Trustees meets Tuesday night in Parksville.

In a special meeting called late last month, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District voted to place a two-year moratorium on all field trips outside of North America, after a group of 85 students and chaperones from the district were caught up in an alleged terrorist incident in Nice, France, in July.

“With the situation in Nanaimo, we’ve asked (staff) to put it on our agenda for our regular board meeting in September,” SD69 Board Chair Eve Flynn said. “We’re going through a review of our policies and procedures anyway, but this one in particular will likely float to the top.”

The Sept. 27 meeting agenda, coincidentally, will also include a request from Kwalikum Secondary School for permission for a group of students and chaperones to make a field trip to Japan in 2017, Flynn said.

“This is timely,” she said. “This will prompt discussion.”

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith board decision came after a group on a scheduled two-week summer tour of France and Spain found itself sightseeing in Nice on July 14 when a man drove a truck through a nearby crowd of Bastille Day revellers, killing 86 people. French police this week announced the arrest of eight men in connection with the attack.

Nobody in the Nanaimo party was injured, but the district opted to cut the trip short and announced July 15 it was returning the group to Canada.

“As France remains on high alert … the likelihood of further risk to our students, staff and volunteers is simply too high,” said J. Kevin Cameron, executive director of Canadian Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response, in the immediate aftermath of the Nice attack. “Both organized terrorists and troubled individuals primed for violence would feel more justified to attempt further violent acts during this critical period. We have learned from so many other high profile tragedies that the full weight of how traumatic this event was may not even be experienced by some until they are safely back on Canadian soil.”

The School District 69 board currently reviews and approves field trip requests under board policy 5020, which covers co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. It was last updated in 2000, and was already scheduled for review this fall even before the incident involving the Nanaimo-Ladysmith students, Flynn said.

“At this time, we do approve those trips out of this district and overseas,” Flynn said. “Sometimes we see them 18 months, two years in advance.”

The Nanaimo trip to France last year came as the country was under a State of Emergency resulting from a previous attack in Paris in November, 2015. That State of Emergency was instituted well after the field trip had been approved.

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith moratorium impacts only trips outside North America. But last Saturday, a series of pipe bombs exploded in New York and New Jersey, and a 28-year-old man was arrested Monday in connection with the bombings after a shootout with police.

In May, the SD69 board approved a field trip to New York in the coming year for students in the Ballenas Secondary School music program. The spring break trip is scheduled for March 15-20, 2017.

In his request, approved by school principal Rudy Terpstra and forwarded to the board as a consent agenda item in its May 24 meeting, sponsor Rick Robson noted the tour package included an “all-inclusive” travel protection plan that includes medical insurance, baggage and accident coverage and 24-hour emergency assistance.

Robson, music teacher at the school, took another group of students on the same tour — which includes two Broadway shows and other educational tour stops — in 2014.

Last April, the International Student Program was approved for a three-day field trip to Seattle.

“We review these as they come up,” Flynn said of international travel requests.

“I know there are groups that have traditionally done trips to things like music festivals in Jasper, or in California or Idaho. We’ll have to consider the climate of the day when we receive those.”

During the past school year, the SD69 board completed review and revisions of its policies and administrative procedures for governance and for administration and facilities. It was scheduled to take up policies in the Instruction category, which include policy 5020, this fall.

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