Clubs lose thousands on trips canceled due to security fears

The Prince William County School Board has requested school officials to review field trips that were canceled in light of the nation’s terror alert status, to determine the financial burden it has placed on clubs and students.

Under the direction of Edward L. Kelly, Prince William County School superintendent, field trips to the Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York areas were canceled. The decision came after the United States Department of Homeland Security raised the alert status to Code Orange on March 17.

Kelly canceled each trip based on its location and the possibility of danger at each location, he said in an interview Thursday.

“We don’t want our kids to get hurt. That’s our big concern,” Kelly said.

Other field trips remained on schedule, including a field trip that went to Tennessee, Kelly said.

Parents of booster clubs expressed concern about canceling field trips scheduled to New York during a recent School Board meeting. They asked the board to review its policies on the financial impact of canceling field trips.

About 71 students and chaperones from Gar-Field High School were looking forward to an overnight chorus trip to New Jersey and New York last weekend, but due to Kelly’s request, it was canceled.

Kevin Raymond, a member of the Gar-Field Choral Booster Club, helped in fund-raising for the choral competition in Roxbury, N.J. The overnight tour to New York City included seeing the musical, “42nd Street.”

Each person paid a deposit that ranged from $150 to $250, said Chuck Mahaney, president of the Gar-Field Choral Booster Club.

The total cost of the trip came to about $15,000. The field trip cost included show tickets, transportation and lodging. The club has received less than half back from a tour company under its contract and $8,000 still needs to be reimbursed, Mahaney said.

“I’m here this evening to request money,” Raymond told the board. “If our requests are denied, we will be insolvent.”

Wayne Mallard, area associate superintendent, said he was not aware of a School Board policy addressing how to handle the financial impact of field trip cancellations, he told the board.

Forest Park and Hylton high school parents expressed similar concerns about the financial impact of the cancellations.

Howard Marcus, a Hylton High School parent, and his son, Matt, were looking forward to a chorus competition in New York this weekend. Parents and students paid about $600 to go on the trip, Marcus said.

Marcus was concerned with canceling trips in specific locations when there are no specific threats to the area.

“I really urge you to reconsider this policy. I think it’s sending the wrong message to our kids,” Marcus told the board.

The board plans to review which field trips have been canceled, the types of requests for reimbursement and if procedures were followed under the board’s contract, said Lucy Beauchamp, School Board chairwoman said.

“We’ve decided to look at the issue to decide how much we’re even talking about,” Beauchamp said of the requests for reimbursements.

There must be a budget in place in order to request approval, Beauchamp said.

“They can’t go into a contract until the School Board has approved it,” Beauchamp said.

PTOs, PTAs, parent booster clubs and students often raise money for overnight or weekend field trips, Beauchamp said.

“Any time you are talking about an out-of-town trip or overnight trip that is not at all subsidized by the school division,” Beauchamp said. “Very little School Board dollars go into field trips for everybody,” Beauchamp said.

In light of the concerns, Steven Keen of the Woodbridge District, asked the board Wednesday to add an action item to the agenda for its meeting April 23. The board did not make a decision.

Donald Richardson, who represents the Gainesville District, made a motion that cancelled field trips be considered on a case-by-case basis. That motion was denied in a 7-1 vote.

Beauchamp said in her 11 years of serving the board, money has not been reimbursed to a booster group for a field trip that was canceled.

“But again, these are extraordinary times,” Beauchamp said.

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