Field trip cancellations: District to make rulings on ‘case-by-case basis’

As the aftermath of last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris continues to unfold, the ripple effects are being felt around the globe, including at home here in Trumbull.

The Trumbull Public School District plans to review field trips and extracurricular activities that send students into major metropolitan areas on a “case-to-case basis” — a decision that has left parents and current and former high school students aggravated at the possibility of canceled trips.

In reaction to one student’s claim that his Model Congress trip to Philadelphia had been canceled as well as a trip to the 9/11 memorial in New York City, Superintendent Dr. Gary Cialfi said that he and the Board of Education have not made any rulings that indicate “a permanent cancellation of any trips and none to date have been canceled.”

“Rather, they are reviewed on a case-by-case basis as they come up on our calendar and checking the State Department warnings or alerts,” he wrote in an email to The Times Tuesday, Dec. 1.

“Right now, we’re looking at each one as they come up and base our decision on the State Department’s reportings and threats they’ve received,” he added in a voicemail Monday, Nov. 30. “We want to ensure student safety and we’re taking the necessary measures to do that.”

A foreign language teacher at the high school said that the superintendent and education board were wrong to deny that any trips have been cancelled thus far.

"Trips were cancelled and now trips are back on on a case by case basis," she wrote in an email Thursday, Dec. 3. "It looks like they backtracked and changed their minds between now and Thanksgiving time when the cancellation emails originally went out."

Originally, the school district had cancelled two approved trips, one to Boston and one to Philadelphia, for Model UN conferences.

According to the teacher, there were also a pair of social studies field trips to NYC, to visit the 9/11 memorial and museum, that were cancelled, but have since been green-lighted again.

Trumbull isn’t the only district taking a look at trips and activities away from the immediate, local area. Stratford’s superintendent, Janet Robinson, said Tuesday that students would be able to go into New York City for field trips, but she canceled any winter or spring trips that were scheduled for outside the continental United States.

Similarly, Shelton school officials decided to postpone a spring trip to New York City and are still waiting to make a ruling about a trip to Washington, D.C., this winter.

Going abroad

Brenda Finizio, a parent of a Trumbull High School junior, told The Times Wednesday that she had a problem with canceling trips abroad — if and when that decision is made.

Her daughter went on a trip to Italy last spring as part of the Italian club at THS.

“She learned more about Italy being there than she could have in any textbook,” Finizio said. “She learned firsthand about the culture, arts, history, food, and much more, along with many of her fellow classmates and friends.

“It would greatly be a mistake to take this opportunity away from students who are studying foreign languages.”

The concerned parent said that the only way to overcome the fear of terror is to continue to live life.

“We have been attacked here in the U.S. Do we stop going to New York City or Washington, D.C., or fly on an airplane because of 9/11?” she asked rhetorically. “People were attacked doing what they do every day — going to work, dropping children off at school and going on vacation.

“We have to live and experience,” she added. “You cannot live in fear. When you do that, you let the terrorist win. We can’t teach our children to live in fear.

“That is the message the Trumbull School District is sending to the students by canceling field trips,” she said. "Let them live and learn by experience.”

Trumbull High School sophomore Lexi Caruso agreed in a letter to the editor submitted Thursday, Dec. 3.

She said she understood the decision to cancel trips but that terrorism’s existence shouldn’t conquer the need of young learners to explore the world.

“If we are taught at such a young age that we should miss out on opportunity and shy away from activities because we are fearful, we will live our whole lives not taking risks,” she said. “Unfortunately, the world is controlled by money and lawsuits can get the best of us. Also, terrorism is a prominent issue. However, the exposure of history and life long memories and friendships should be able to override this fear.”

Student reaction

Ashley Hallstrom, a 2014 graduate of Trumbull High School, also went on the trip to Italy as part of the high school’s Italian Club.

“I was given the most amazing opportunity to tour Italy in April of 2013 for 10 days,” she told The Times Wednesday.

“I could not believe that I had the chance to study the language that I love in its native country,” she said. “It was the best time of my life. Not only did I return home from this trip as a better Italian speaker, I returned home with unforgettable memories that still make me smile today.

“That trip was the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she added.

She said it would be “foolish to take away such amazing opportunities from kids who want to learn more about the world.”

Ethan Bachand, a sophomore at Trumbull High School, wrote the initial letter about the district’s decision, which he said was made Nov. 24 — a day before the Thanksgiving holiday break.

“We have a class field trip to the 911 memorial that’s been canceled,” he told The Times Nov. 30.

“My teacher got an official email and told students we wouldn’t be going — the decision was read to us by our teacher,” he added. “I’ve heard other trips to Boston and Philadelphia are also possibly being canceled, as well as Washington, D.C.”

Bachand said he didn’t know of any other school trips that were specifically canceled besides his class trip to New York City. However, he said that the Model Congress club had its trip to Philadelphia canceled, which was upsetting to its members.

“It definitely limits what we can do as a club,” the sophomore explained. “We’re only in our third year of existence, and not being allowed to go the biggest conference of the year is a huge setback for us. …

“They know how much we care about these clubs,” he added.

Caruso, talking about the possibility of not being able to travel abroad to Italy by the end of high school, agreed.

“Based on all the pictures I have seen and stories I've heard about the trip last year, it was the best week of some people's lives,” she said, echoing Hallstrom’s point. “It is quite impactful for just a week do have such an impact on a teenager.

“Nowadays, we are so caught up in our phones and we should expand into the real world,” she continued. “I believe travel teachers concepts to such a heightened extend than inside the classroom.

“When the Colosseum has popped out of the textbook and you see it in front of your eyes, you get an accurate visual of the time and a new perspective of culture that worksheets could never give someone.”

Alternate plans

There hasn’t been an announcement about how the high plans to replace these experiences for its students.

Bachand said that the club would still be able to travel to a conference being held at Yale University  Saturday, Dec. 5, but that it wouldn’t be the same as going to Philadelphia.

“It’s the biggest and best competition,” Bachand said. “Over 700 students across the country go to it — it’s a very big deal, and now we’re not going to be able to go back to it.

“We practice after school for these competitions, but the best practice is actually being there in the real environment,” he added. “It’s so effective and such an important experience for all of us.”

As for the 911 memorial trip, the sophomore said the school is actively pursuing alternate plans to safer areas, such as Newport, R.I.

“That trip is part of my U.S. history class,” he explained. “They’re trying to come up with something new that could fill in for it. …

“It’s a knee-jerk reaction to threats made on New York City and the nation’s Capitol in light of the Paris attacks,” he added. “I’ve never been to the 911 memorial and I think it would be a great experience to go down there.”


Bachand said members of clubs like Model Congress, Model U.N. and We the People — all of whom might be affected in the coming weeks and months by the district’s decision to cancel a trip out of state — pay a club fee at the beginning of the year that isn’t reimbursable.

“My parents had a pretty strong reaction to the decision,” he said. “They don’t think it’s fair to decline us this opportunity.”

In addition to parents, the sophomore said, students are very upset with the decisions that have been made thus far, as well as the possibility of more cancellations to come.

“The students really don’t like it,” he said. “And the teachers don’t believe in it, even though they can see the reasoning behind it.”