Toronto

Toronto students fighting school board's no-travel policy amid Trump travel ban

Toronto students are fighting back against a Toronto District School Board decision regarding trips to the United States imposed because of President Donald Trump's ban on residents from six mostly-Muslim countries.

Not attending U.S. conference would be 'unbelievable,' says Bloor Collegiate student

Last year, Maisha Fahmida and Maheep Bagha were among the five Bloor Collegiate Institute students who went to a stateside business conference. But, given the current ban, even if they qualify again this year — they won't be able to compete. (Chris Glover/CBC News)

Toronto students are fighting back against a Toronto District School Board decision regarding trips to the United States imposed because of President Donald Trump's ban on residents from six mostly-Muslim countries.

Last year, Maisha Fahmida and Maheep Bagha were among the five Bloor Collegiate Institute students who went to Anaheim, Calif., for the International Career Development Conference held by DECA, an international association of high school and college students in business, finance and marketing.

The two 16-year-old Grade 11 students qualified among the top 20 international finalists and were able to attend thanks to an exemption from the TDSB, because plane tickets and accommodations were already booked and paid for.

But, given the TDSB's current travel ban, even if they qualify again this year, they won't be able to compete.

"Not being able to have that opportunity, and going to the next level — the final stage of the competition — is unbelievable," Fahmida told CBC Toronto.

Both are now pushing the Toronto District School Board to reassess its stance on not booking stateside student trips amid the travel ban, saying the DECA experience is an important part of their education and career development.

"You meet people, you network with people, and it's like people from across the world," said Bagha. "It's not something you can get in Toronto; an event of that magnitude you can't get anywhere else."

The Bloor Collegiate DECA chapter has approximately 100 members, 40 who have qualified for provincials in Toronto in February.

"Studying so hard and preparing months-after-months and teaching other people that you can do it, just motivating them, and now just saying it to them that 'no, we're not allowed to go,' it's just heartbreaking," said Fahmida.

The TDSB's ban on travel to the U.S. is 'hurting the students,' said Toronto father Michael Quinlan, whose son James, 17, is a Grade 12 student hoping to attend a stateside competition this year. (Provided by Michael Quinlan)

No student, staff trips to U.S. until 'further notice'

In March 2017, the director of education with the TDSB announced that, because of the US travel restrictions, "no student or staff trips to the U.S. will be booked until further notice."

The director wrote in a statement that even though students have appropriate documentation to gain entrance to the U.S., "we strongly believe that our students should not be placed into these situations of potentially being turned away at the border."  

"It was done in good intentions but it's hurting the students," said Toronto father Michael Quinlan, whose 17-year-old son James is a Grade 12 student hoping to attend a stateside competition this year.

"This is his last opportunity to do this," said Quinlan. "He wants to represent his school, and the TDSB and Toronto and Canada, and I think he should be given the opportunity."

In response to the board's stance, some DECA students have launched a petition to push the board to change its policy The petition has more than 500 signatures to date. Meanwhile, Fahmida and Bagha are encouraging supporters to shoot minute-long videos to send to the TDSB.

"We're just trying to get some awareness out there as to what the actual issue is, and how students are actually affected, because I don't think the board actually understands how much we would be missing out on an opportunity," Bagha said.

Trustees considering adjusting TDSB travel ban

Board trustees say they have been paying attention to the students' concerns.

The chair of the governance and policy committee, TDSB trustee Alexander Brown, told CBC Toronto in an email trustees are "listening" to students and parents who are complaining about the ban.

Brown said there are 327 TDSB students who are legally in Canada but who do not have citizenship and are at a "much higher risk of being turned away at the U.S. border" because the the Trump travel ban.

Despite that, the committee has made a recommendation to adjust the TDSB travel ban to exempt "competitions and professional development" in the U.S.

That recommendation will go before the full board of trustees on Feb. 7.

"So that just gives us right enough time to tell our members, 'Okay, you're good to go,' and hopefully that's the message we can say to them," said Bagha.

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