Schools Cancel Trips in Face of Heightened Terror Alerts

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South River High School senior Mark Cross will not play his baritone saxophone while marching on the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, this spring.

Cross is one of thousands of Maryland students who saw school travel plans canceled in recent days by nervous school administrators faced with the possibility of war and a heightened terrorist threat.

Most school districts in the state had imposed some restrictions by Wednesday. Some canceled any trips outside their immediate area, others have banned international travel, still others are studying the situation.

School officials said federal government warnings that Americans are soft targets when traveling abroad prompted their actions.

"Students go in groups and are very visible," said Patty Kaplan, a spokeswoman for Howard County, Md. schools, which canceled international trips.

Kaplan said Howard officials realize that the ban may end up costing families who had already paid for their children's trips, but that "the cost of student life is priceless."

In Montgomery County, Md. Superintendent Jerry Weast had canceled foreign travel for hundreds of students who had planned to travel this spring for musical performances, foreign language study and cultural exchange. Late Wednesday, that restriction was expanded to include a ban on any overnight trip or any trip more than 75 miles from the county, so that students could get back home quickly in the event of a crisis.

Weast also urged principals to weigh trips to Washington, D.C., on a case-by-case basis.

Keeping children close to home was cited by many school districts in their restrictions. Some Eastern Shore school systems canceled all trips off the Delmarva Pennisula, including trips for school-sponsored activities such as band, chorus, sports, field trips and competitions.

"We feel that we can better ensure the safety of students and maintain communication with staff members and students if they do not travel too far from Wicomico County," schools Superintendent Charlene C. Boston said Tuesday.

Wicomico schools spokeswoman Tracy Sahler said a student trip to watch the Baltimore Orioles play this spring has been canceled. And high school students planning to compete in a statewide occupational skills championship in Catonsville this month will not be going, she said.

While bans on trips to Washington and New York were popular with school systems, students in Baltimore had not had their travel restricted as of Wednesday.

"We sent home a letter concerning emergency preparedness," said Vanessa Pyatt, a city schools spokeswoman. "But as of now we haven't stopped any trips."

But Anne Arundel County students will not be allowed to take school-sponsored trips to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, or anywhere else that would require air travel, said Jane Beckett-Donahue spokeswoman for the county.

Cross, the South River saxophonist, testified before the Anne Arundel school board Friday on behalf of 130 people, students and parents, some of whom had saved all year and already paid to go to Edinburgh.

The last-minute cancellation of the South River High School trip by Anne Arundel County Superintendent Eric J. Smith cost students and their parents thousands of dollars in reservation fees, said Assistant Principal George Beaumont.

Cross argued for the trip, saying that "we should not cower in our own country." But the board Tuesday voted to uphold Smith's decision to cancel the trip.

Cross said he understands. He's just happy the district will let him travel to Cleveland this spring to present his science fair project on rat brain proteins at a national competition. The school system has told him he has to drive.