Schools Cancel Trips to Washington Area

Schools and other groups that normally bring busloads of young people to the Washington, D.C., region are canceling or rethinking field trips as sniper shootings terrorize the area.

The hard decisions weighing safety and student enrichment come a year after school districts had to make similar choices in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Nine people in the region have been shot, seven of them fatally, by a sniper since Oct. 2. On Friday, another man was shot to death in Massaponax, Va., but police hadn't determined whether the shooting was related.

In suburban Philadelphia's West Chester School District, the shootings led a safety committee formed after the terrorist attacks to cancel a trip to the Baltimore Aquarium about 100 elementary school students had been scheduled to take Friday.

"What we found is that the problem is so random, with these shootings all being in the I-95 corridor, we decided to err on the side of caution," said David Flamer, the district's director of elementary education. "I wouldn't want to have to be the individual to have to report to a parent that something unfortunate happened to a child."

The risk also canceled a girls' soccer tournament scheduled for the weekend that last year drew more than 330 teams from around the country. The event's sponsor, the Washington Area Girls Soccer League, said on its Web site that "that the lives of the players, parents, referees and volunteers are far more valuable than any soccer game or tournament."

In North Carolina, Wake County school administrators have banned school field trips to the area until further notice, including a trip this weekend in which more than 150 high school students were supposed to visit sites near the Washington Mall.

Schools with Washington-area events planned later in the fall are withholding judgment.

Chester County's Octorara School District will allow students to visit the Smithsonian Institution only if the shooter is caught before the planned Oct. 30 departure.

"If they don't find the shooter by then, they are definitely canceling the trip," Octorara Middle School Principal Nancy Bishop said.

The Smithsonian expects to see fewer student groups as long as the sniper situation continues, although field trips this early in the school year are rare, museum spokeswoman Elizabeth Tait said.

Tait said groups should not be afraid to come because security at the museum is already tight.

"We don't need to have any more association with fear of Washington," Tait said.