It’s a trip of a lifetime for high schoolers heading overseas, but now students in Waterbury won’t get the chance.
A meeting was held on Thursday with staff and parents, after the mayor said he would cancel upcoming high school trips to Europe and South America, citing not just safety but also liability concerns.
On Thursday, the Board of Education, on the advice of the mayor, voted to reverse their decision and deny three international trips from happening.
Waterbury isn't be the first Connecticut school district to pull the plug on a European class trip following the attacks in Paris and Brussels, but the Waterbury mayor said if the Board of Education doesn’t revisit the idea, he’ll override the trips himself. Greenwich also recently canceled a school trip.
"I hope they do this on their own and I don't have to exercise my authority, but clearly as far as I'm concerned, those students won't be able to go on that trip,” O’Leary said.
Waterbury had three overseas trips planned for this month. Wilby High School was sending 20 students to Paris, the Waterbury Arts Magnet School had 23 students going to Peru, and Kennedy High had planned to send five students to Rome and Venice.
"These are school sponsored trips, it’s a tumultuous environment in Europe and I'm not willing to take the risk,” Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said.
O’Leary said his decision was influenced by the terror attacks in Paris and more recently in Brussels.
He said there are also warnings from the U.S. State Department in regards to traveling, not just Europe, but also to Peru, following recent demonstrations and violence.
"Our insurance carrier called us and said look, just so you know, if your students have an unfortunate experience in Europe, because of the travel advisory and the coverage, we do not cover terrorist injuries or worse, and quite frankly, we can't take that kind of chance,” O’Leary said.
Parents said it’s a tough call.
"It’s an iffy thing and it’s too bad that things are the way they are with the terrorists, because I think the kids would have benefited,” said Nancy Daniel, of Waterbury.
"I agree with the mayor, only because it’s the safety for the kids. If all this mess wasn't going on, then okay, something to think about, but the explosions, the killing, I don't think it’s a good idea for the kids to go,” said Gotti Goyco, of Waterbury.
Emma Lewis and her friends had been planning an international school-sanctioned trip to Machu Picchu since 2014, and in one week they were supposed to be there.
"I even have part of my bag packed because I was preparing and getting everything together," Lewis said.
But on Thursday night, those dreams were dashed, at least temporarily.
"They're telling us no, you're staying at home, you're not leaving, you're doing what we tell you to do," said Rachel Braziel.
The vote on Thursday officially removes the city from the trips, but some students said they are scrambling to go to Peru, privately, completely independent of Waterbury.
"For canceling the trip for this reason, we don't get anything from the company. So it would be 100 percent on the school system to pay us back. And I don't have faith they'll do that," said Adriana Taplin.
The mayor said they will make every effort to make whole those who might have out of pocket expenses.
"We will make sure they get their reimbursement so that if they do continue to go on with their trips, they'll have the money before they go, so they can go. That will be done very quickly, you have my word on that," O'Leary said.
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