British Columbia

Several school districts cancel international student trips as coronavirus outbreak worsens

Hundreds of students across B.C. are learning that their international spring break trips have been called off due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.

'Disappointment can be very keen,’ says Sunshine Coast schools superintendent after calling off trips

Kate Horodyski, 16, was supposed to leave in two weeks for a trip to Italy and France with other Point Grey secondary students. On Wednesday, she learned the trip has been cancelled due to coronavirus concerns. (Martin Diotte/CBC news)

Hundreds of students across B.C. are learning that their international spring break trips have been called off due to concerns about the global spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Surrey School District has cancelled nine trips, affecting 200 students.

And the Vancouver School Board has cancelled a trip to France and Italy that affects about 20 students from Point Grey and Prince of Wales secondary schools.

Kate Horodyski, a 16-year-old Point Grey student, said while she is disappointed she won't get a chance to visit Florence or Paris this spring, she's also a bit relieved.

"We were kind of nervous about the virus because I know that some things are locked down. We don't want to be quarantined," said Horodyski.

West Vancouver Schools also announced Wednesday that it has cancelled a school trip to France due to concerns about COVID-19. 

Surrey School Superintendent Jordan Tinney said his district cancelled trips after reviewing Health Canada's travel advisories and weighing the potential for travelling students to end up quarantined either overseas or once they return to Canada after their trips.

The Sunshine Coast School District has also cancelled four European school trips, confirmed Patrick Bocking, superintendent of schools.

A trip to Russia leaving Thursday is going ahead, but only because parents decided to take over responsibility for the trip.

Passengers check their tickets at Air Canada's kiosk at international arrivals at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in Richmond, British Columbia on Wednesday, January 28, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Bocking said many students have saved for years for these trips.

"It's a very special opportunity for our students, so the disappointment can be very keen," said Bocking.

'Uncharted waters'

He said based on current travel advisories and uncertain public health information in some of the countries where students were headed, the district made the difficult decision to call off the student travel.

"As the World Health Organization is saying we are in uncharted waters. We don't know what is going to be happening next," said Bocking.

Some parents disagreed, he said. 

"We certainly get a range of opinions about this from parents and we all have different tolerance levels for risk. Because the safest thing is for everybody to stay at home. There is always some risk in any kind of travel," he said.

For many students, school-organized trips are the only way they can afford to travel, as homestays and meals are included, he said.

The two-week learning adventures cost thousands of dollars, and most families will get refunds if they bought insurance, administrators said.

Some parents say they wish they had more input before the trips were called off.

Vancouver father John Horodyski said the news that his 16-year-old daughter's March trip to France and Italy had been cancelled came as a "shock."

He received a letter from Vancouver School Board associate superintendent Rob Schindel on Tuesday.

"Out of an abundance of caution and with the interests of staff and student safety in the forefront, the Vancouver school district has decided that student field study trips to Italy will not proceed during Spring Break this school year … due to the risk of harm that might occur from COVID-19 in Italy," Schindel wrote in the letter to parents.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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