Island students looking forward to school trips overseas or even as close as New York and Washington, D.C., might not have to pack their bags after all.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks this month, Island school officials have already canceled a high school trip to Egypt slated for next April and are recommending a suspension of any trips or bookings for the next three months for both domestic and foreign travel.
A group of exchange students in Germany has also nixed plans to come to the Island next month, throwing into question whether the Vineyard high school German students will go over in February for their side of the exchange.
Principals will meet Friday to discuss the issue, and the regional high school committee is expected to vote on Monday whether to impose the recommended three-month ban on trips.
"This policy is a good thing," said school superintendent Kriner Cash. "This is a sensible approach to a difficult call. We want to be cautious about it, but not so rigid if things do lift."
Mr. Cash tried to hold off making a decision last week, watching to see how the United States responded to the attacks of Sept. 11. But with some military forces now activated and others on alert, Mr Cash said, "I don't want our kids over where operations are occurring."
School officials are also under pressure to make decisions as deadlines are looming to book tickets and make travel arrangements, most of them nonrefundable.
More than a dozen trips have been planned by the high school and the Island's four elementary schools. If principals and regional high school committee members endorse the three-month suspension, the decision would immediately cancel two trips to England, one with the West Tisbury School eighth grade and the other with high school English teacher Dan Sharkovitz.
"It's a terrible shame, especially for upperclassmen for whom this might have been their first trip overseas," said high school principal Peg Regan.
Travel abroad has grown hugely popular over the last several years, with students from language, history and even culinary arts heading to foreign destinations. Many students work summer jobs just to save money, and other classes engage in fundraising efforts to offset the cost of a trip.
But with increased scrutiny in the aftermath of this month's terrorism, trips planned for Cuba, Russia, France, Spain, Italy and Ireland are now being questioned. Even a trip to Florida in March sponsored by the high school building trades class could be canceled. Those students were planning to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity, an organization devoted to affordable housing.
But school leaders appear to be erring on the side of caution. Mrs. Regan said one teacher put it this way: "Under the best of circumstances, if you take kids abroad, there's always a risk. To have this situation makes it very difficult."
Besides foreign travel, annual trips to Washington, D.C., by eighth graders and some high school government students may also be in jeopardy.
Mr. Cash said he is seeking input from parents before he sits down with principals on Friday to vote on a policy.
"Right now, our concern is for flight travel," he said. "We need to bounce off the idea of taking a bus or train."
As for more modest field trips off-Island, Mr. Cash said his cabinet of school leaders will likely take up that issue at Friday's meeting.
"The easy thing to do is to cancel everything," said Mr. Cash. "But it depends on how things unfold. Schools are major institutions to support strong values. I don't want to prematurely deny students opportunities that are at the heart of what we all believe."
At the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, director Bob Moore said he would wait until December to make a decision on a trip to Florence, Italy, slated for April. He said domestic travel plans remain unchanged.
Both Mr. Cash and Mrs. Regan said they expect a lively debate on the issue at Monday's meeting of the regional high school committtee.