Travel restrictions being introduced in the United States is resulting in a change of course for the Greater Victoria School District.
The Greater Victoria board of education on Monday supported a call from superintendent Piet Langstraat to review all school trips already planned for the United States, with no future trips being scheduled.
The review comes in the wake of travel restrictions brought into place by U.S. President Donald Trump. A U.S. court has overturned the travel ban, but the administration is promising to introduce a similar ban on citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
“We believe it is prudent at this point to postpone future travel plans until we have a clear understanding of what’s going on,” said Langstraat.
He said there have been a number of issues involving people of Muslim faith being held up at the border, regardless of their countries of origin or whether they hold passports.
“Our district is governed by values, and it is our values of tolerance, understanding and equity that must guide our decision-making,” said board chair Edith Loring-Kuhanga. “We are one learning community and no student should be deprived of opportunity based on their race, religion or ethnicity.”
While no future trips will be planned to the United States, the district has already scheduled 10 U.S. trips involving 410 students, the earliest of those trips set to leave March 6.
“Those 10 field trips present a more complex issue for us, because plans have obviously been made, money has been put down on deposits, plane travel has been purchased,” said Langstraat, who will review all school trips planned for the U.S. and meet with staff, students and parents with a focus on minimizing any risks to students, staff and chaperones.
“We’re very mindful that we have, for example, 83 Syrian refugee students in our district. Even if they’re not scheduled to go on a trip, clearly they would not be able to travel to the United States. What do we do with that as a school community?”
Langstraat rejects any suggestion the decision was a political statement by the district about the U.S. administration or the government’s decisions on how it chooses to protect its borders.
“I agree that is something for the American administration to determine. What my role is is to ensure, first of all, our students, staff and parent community are safe,” he said. “And secondly, that we are being true to our values as a school district. This is in no way any kind of political statement.”
The district will continue to seek clarity on the issue as new information on U.S. travel restrictions is received, and will review and adapt its policy as needed.