No reason to nix school trips abroad over safety concerns, Goodale says

EDMONTON -- Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he knows of no reason why school boards should cancel international student trips over terrorism fears, but he says the decision is ultimately up to educators.

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Goodale suggests school boards should consult with RCMP and other federal authorities if they are concerned.

He was responding Thursday to questions about schools boards that have cancelled trips following recent terror attacks in Paris and California.

"To the best of my knowledge at this moment, there is nothing that would particularly provoke that kind of a response, but it will be up to school boards and so forth to make their own decisions in these matters," Goodale said in Ottawa.

"What terrorists are trying to do is destroy our way of life, and we must be very clear that we're not going to give in to that kind of abuse and threat," he said. "At the same time, you have to behave prudently."

This week three school districts in Alberta suspended international student trips for the remainder of the 2015-2016 school year over safety concerns.

The Black Gold Regional Division south of Edmonton said it made the decision after conferring with parents.

Johnette Lemke, chairwoman of the division's board, said the safety of students and staff cannot be put at risk.

"We are aware that some students and parents may be disappointed with this decision," Lemke said in a notice posted on the division's website.

"We had to consider several factors but, first and foremost, student and staff safety needed to be our No. 1 priority."

The Black Gold division south of Edmonton has about 10,500 students enrolled in 30 schools.

The board said it came to its decision after looking at the results of a survey.

Of the 755 people who responded, 23 per cent supported suspending all international travel, according to the board's website.

Another 57 per cent favoured suspending trips to areas for which the federal government has issued advisories warning people to exercise a high degree of caution or to avoid non-essential travel.

About 20 per cent of parents opposed suspending trips.

On Monday, the Edmonton and Calgary Catholic school districts cancelled all international trips for the rest of the school year over safety concerns.

The Edmonton public board said that, after consulting parents, it will make decisions about international trips on a case-by-case basis.

"Edmonton Public knows field trips involving travel provide invaluable learning and life experiences," Supt. Darrel Robertson said Thursday.

"Recent world events mean it's prudent for us to exercise a higher degree of scrutiny and seek a balance between what's educational and what's safe."

He said he reserves the right to cancel a field trip at any time.

The Calgary public board has put such trips on hold and is expected to make a decision soon on whether to cancel them.

The Alberta School Boards' Insurance Exchange sent out a bulletin last month that strongly recommended school districts review international travel plans.

The bulletin said terrorist attacks are not new, but seem to be growing in historic and tourist destinations with more loss of life and destruction.

The insurance exchange noted that the Islamic State's aggressive disregard for all life makes it very dangerous and volatile.


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