Outbreak of War Against Iraq Will Curtail Student Travel Plans to Countries Overseas

By CHRIS BURRELL

If war in Iraq breaks out before April vacation, students at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School can forget about their travel plans to Ireland, Costa Rica and England.

That was the message this week from the regional school committee whose regular monthly meeting Monday night drew a crowd of nearly 50 people - parents, students and at least three teachers who tried to sway committee members to reconsider their hard-line stance on travel.

"Peg [Regan, school principal] and I are recommending that all subsequent travel to foreign countries be canceled if one of the following conditions takes place," said Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash.

Besides war, other events that would trigger a blanket travel cancellation include a code red alert being issued by the U.S. office of homeland security; a government-issued travel restriction for a country being traveled to or through, and a terrorist act committed near one of the trip itineraries.

The up-Island regional school committee unanimously endorsed a similar policy last week in an effort to create some guidelines for the eighth grade trip to England, scheduled to depart next week.

At the high school, three trips are in now in the offing for mid-April. School leaders this week praised the cultural and educational benefits of school travel, but said they were making safety the top priority. A legal opinion obtained by the schools also advised leaders that the schools would be liable if something went wrong on one of the trips.

"I'm concerned about the domino effect of this war," said Mr. Cash. "This situation is unlike anything I've ever seen. Student safety is first for me."

Arguing the other side were parents and students who bemoaned the potential loss of money already spent on airline tickets and lodging. But more than money, members of this camp focused on the blow to the unique travel opportunities offered at the regional high school.

High school senior Alex Buder told the committee that foreign travel was one of the best ways to fight intolerance and prejudice. "If you don't take risks, you're not going to experience the world," he said. "What feeds the fundamentalism in the world are people who haven't seen other cultures."

Mr. Buder urged the committee with these words: "Do not live in fear of terrorists, war or even lawsuits."

His comments drew applause. Teacher Jill Gault picked up the theme, arguing that world travel for young students creates world peace.

Social studies teacher Elaine Weintraub was the most vociferous advocate for placing no restrictions on student travel overseas. Hoping to fly to Ireland with her students, Mrs. Weintraub said the country would probably be safer than the United States.

"Ireland is a neutral country and is not considered a target nation by the Islamic world," she said, reading from a prepared statement.

Asked by a committee member whether she favored traveling to Ireland even if war broke out, Mrs. Weintraub said, "The war will be over in three or four days, and I feel very comfortable taking kids to Ireland. It will be safer there than in New York city."

At least two parents agreed with Mrs. Weintraub, saying that they trusted sending their children with the teacher even in the midst of such global political turmoil. "If we do have a war, I'd rather have my son in Ireland," said Rosemary Van Nes of West Tisbury.

Some school committee members also expressed doubt about a hard-line policy. Susan Parker, a member from Chilmark, suggested a wait-and-see position. "These trips are not until mid-April. We have another meeting in April, and we could look at things as they unfold," she said. "There's no need for a snap decision."

Committee member Roxanne Ackerman of Aquinnah said, "We're going the wrong way from what we're trying to teach the students."

But other members backed the administration's recommendation. "The number one priority is the safety of our children. We are in tremendous danger now," said Tim Dobel, a school committee member from Oak Bluffs. "To have our kids spread out over the world at this time is a frightening possibility."