Nova Scotia

Provincewide ban on international school trips a 'possibility' due to coronavirus

Education Minister Zach Churchill says the province is considering a Nova Scotia-wide ban on international school trips due to COVID-19, depending on the outcome of ongoing meetings between the regional centres of education and principals.

'The situation is evolving, anxiety levels are increasing,' says Education Minister Zach Churchill

Zach Churchill is Nova Scotia's minister of education. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Nova Scotia is considering a provincewide ban on international school trips as anxieties around the COVID-19 outbreak mount, Education Minister Zach Churchill said Tuesday.

Principals are meeting with staff from the regional centres of education over the next couple of days to discuss plans for the upcoming trips, Churchill said, and the government is waiting to get their feedback before making a final decision.

Churchill said in each region there are different trips at "various" risk levels depending on the destination, so the province wants to hear from parents and education centres on whether a "system-wide decision is necessary."

"The situation is evolving, anxiety levels are increasing," Churchill said Tuesday. When asked if he's contemplating ban, he said it "is a possibility, but we have not made a determination on that yet."

It's a quick change in tune from just four days ago, when Churchill said the decision to cancel or alter international school trips rests with travel companies and parents.

The minister added the government will make a final decision soon, since many of these international trips take place over the upcoming break during March 16-20.

Insurance kicks in if group cancels

When asked if a provincial ban would impact any travel insurance claims, Churchill said Tuesday families should be able to claim the cost of the trip whether the regional centres make the final call, or the province.

EF Educational Tours Canada, which runs student trips, confirmed that to be the case.

"If the group, the school, or the school board collectively chose to cancel the trip, those travelers who purchased insurance would be able to make an insurance claim," Adam Bickelman, tour spokesperson, said in an email Monday.

Bickelman said the company's policies allow groups to delay or change their plans — including to domestic locations — without penalty, or take a refund in the form of a travel voucher up to the day of departure. 

At this time, schools in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) with trips planned to Europe, and in particularly Italy, the hardest hit country on the continent, are "working with tour operators and families to examine available options if they wish to alter their travel plans," spokesperson Doug Hadley said in an email Tuesday.

Hadley said HRCE encourages families who have purchased trip insurance to check with their insurance company about what protections are available to them if they wish to cancel a trip.

Family calls for Europe trip to be cancelled now

But some families are questioning why these trips haven't been cancelled already, leading to worries around whether they'll have to choose between losing money or sending their children into a precarious situation.

Jeff O'Toole said Tuesday he won't be sending his 16-year-old son Ryan, who is in Grade 11 at Cole Harbour High. At the moment, he said the school's Europe trip is still going ahead amid "vocal" opposition.

He'd like to see the trip cancelled now, so parents can have the option of getting their money back under insurance. A decision can always be made about rebooking the trip at a different time.

"This is a virus that we really don't understand everything about it, but we do see statistics where people are dying. And to send children to Europe at this stage just does not make any sense to me whatsoever," O'Toole said.

Ryan, who has been checking updates about the virus every day, said none of his classmates want to go on the upcoming trip.

"It's kind of like a rite of passage to take one of those trips to go and experience new cultures and stuff. And with half of Europe closed, I'm not going to be able to do that," Ryan said.


With files from Jean Laroche and Kayla Hounsell