Canada's largest school board is looking to allow some travel to the United States – a decision that several school districts across the country have grappled with in light of uncertainty surrounding restrictions at the border.
A Toronto District School Board (TDSB) committee is recommending that school trips to the United States specifically related to high-school competitions for students and professional development for staff be allowed. An overall ban on travel south of the border, which came into effect last spring, would still remain in effect.
"We're trying to listen to student voices and parent voices, and be a little flexible on it," said Alexander Brown, chair of the governance and policy committee. Trustees will vote on a motion to loosen U.S. travel restrictions early next month.
The TDSB took the unusual step in March of banning trips to the United States indefinitely in light of President Donald Trump's travel restrictions on residents from six majority-Muslim countries. Trips approved before March were allowed to proceed, with the understanding that groups would return home if any students with appropriate documentation were not allowed to cross into the United States. The board said it made the "difficult decision" to ban such trips because "students should not be placed into these situations of potentially being turned away at the border."
Mr. Brown said trustees have since heard from high-school students that the travel ban to the United States prevents them from participating in competitions that could help them with their applications into postsecondary programs. He said the TDSB could pass the motion, stick with the current ban or amend it to include competitions at the elementary-school level, as well.
The climate in the United States and possible border restrictions forced educators in many parts of the country to rethink taking students to traditional destinations in the U.S.
The Girl Guides of Canada cancelled its trips to the United States in a pre-emptive move to avoid the possibility that some might get turned back at the border.
Jim Cambridge, superintendent at the Sooke School District in B.C., said the board reconsidered a number of trips to the United States last year. The board did not end up cancelling any of them and instead added more staff in case any student was denied entry, he said.
Some schools, however, elected to take a different trip within Canada, he added.
Scott Scantlebury, spokesman for the Greater Essex County District School Board in Southwestern Ontario, said his district, too, has encouraged school staff to plan trips within Canada, and that the superintendent responsible for approving excursions has not had to respond to any applications for U.S. trips this year.
Toronto high-school student Maheep Bagha said she was pleased that the TDSB committee listened to teens about why travelling to the United States for competitions was important. Ms. Bagha is part of DECA at her high school, Bloor Collegiate Institute, which is an international association of high-school and college students pursuing business and entrepreneurship.
She said that she was able to travel to Anaheim, Calif., last year to compete in a business competition because the trip had been previously approved by the TDSB. If her team qualifies again this year, they would travel to Atlanta, she said.
Ms. Bagha, 16, and other high-school students signed a petition to ask the TDSB to loosen its travel ban. "The thought of not having the opportunity to go this year if we qualify, it's hard to imagine," Ms. Bagha said. "Something this big doesn't come around every single day. It's an opportunity to kind of branch out. You get to learn more about what you're interested in."