COVID-19 concerns prompt calls for clearer policies concerning overseas school trips

Click to play video: 'Parents say communication over march break trips to Europe confusing' Parents say communication over march break trips to Europe confusing
Some parents say things have been unclear about the COVID-19 outbreak. As Alicia Draus reports, it’s also unclear who is responsible for making a decision on whether or not trips should go ahead – Feb 27, 2020

March break is just weeks away and 12 Halifax-area high schools have trips planned to Europe.

But with an outbreak of COVID-19 in Italy, there have been concerns about whether or not it’s safe for students to travel overseas.

At least one parent has come forward saying he’s not sending his son on the trip, and he’s called for the trip to be cancelled altogether. That hasn’t happened yet, but if it were to be cancelled, there’s confusion over just who would make that call.

READ MORE: Parent wants Dartmouth High’s trip to Europe cancelled amid COVID-19 outbreak

“Who makes the decision to cancel an overseas school trip and what is the process to communicate to parents and students?” asked PC MLA Tim Halman during question period on Thursday.

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Education Minister Zach Churchill said it’s up to trip organizers.

“Right now, that decision does rest with our school communities, in particular parents.”

On Tuesday, John MacEachern, a parent of a Dartmouth High student, told Global News he would not be letting his son take part in the trip.

But by making that decision, he was out nearly $5,000. In order to recoup that cost, the trip would have to be officially cancelled, but by who?

In a phone call with Global News, the principal of Dartmouth High School, Eartha Monard, said cancelling the trip is up to either Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) or the tour company itself, in this case, EF Tours.

“I don’t think you want to be leaving questions of student wellness and safety to people who, well, they’re in the business of turning a profit,” said Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

READ MORE: N.S. high school’s March break trip to avoid northern Italy due to coronavirus

“They shouldn’t be rolling the dice and hoping a for-profit company that doesn’t want to see the trips cancelled because they’ll lose money make a decision that impacts student safety. That’s not acceptable.”

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Meanwhile, HRCE told Global News while they are monitoring the situation, they are not involved with school trips, and that “parents are encouraged to continue to communicate with both their school and tour operator.”

Wozney says this type of back and fourth is both confusing and frustrating for parents and teachers.

“The union is concerned that decisions about going or not going is a matter of public safety to be frankly downloaded to teachers who are not experts of public health and communicable disease. It’s unconscionable to us that teachers would be left in a spot of having to make a decision,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Travelling during a viral outbreak' Travelling during a viral outbreak
Travelling during a viral outbreak – Feb 25, 2020

Wozney says these types of decisions belong at senior leadership levels which include executive directors of the regional centres for education — and the education minister himself.

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Churchill told reporters that they are advising everyone to pay attention to Health Canada guidelines and travel restrictions put out by the federal government. Churchill added that a meeting was taking place Thursday afternoon between department staff and executive directors of the regional centres for education to further discuss the issue and to decide if “there is a need for more consistent and robust policies and protocols.”

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