Grounded through February, Island school students can forget about their travel plans to England, Barbados, Cuba, Germany and Russia. School leaders decided this week to cancel flight travel for student trips until March, citing safety concerns in the aftermath of last month's terrorist attacks.
The decision will affect more than 100 students, including the entire eighth grade class at the West Tisbury School, forced to scrap plans for their annual exchange trip to England. Several more overseas trips are planned for March and April, but school officials are adopting a wait-and-see approach as world events unfold.
As for school travel to Washington, D.C., in March and April, school leaders want to replace flight travel with either bus or rail service. Finally, field trips closer to home - Boston and New England - will remain unchanged other than to add more chaperones.
"It's better to err on the side of postponing until we know more," school superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash told the regional high school committee this week. Last Friday, school principals endorsed the plan and agreed to review school travel on a monthly basis.
The regional school committee voted unanimously Monday night to cancel flight travel through February, choosing student safety over the educational benefits of overseas travel.
But the move temporarily undercuts one of the unique hallmarks of the regional high school, where students have grown accustomed to a wide array of travel opportunities offered not only to those studying foreign languages but increasingly to students in social studies, music, culinary arts and even building trades courses.
"There are more trips leaving Martha's Vineyard Regional High School than any other high school in the country," principal Margaret Regan told her school committee.
But with the prospect of military action, school committee members feared it was simply too risky to send students abroad. "It's a big decision to take responsibility for other people's children," said committee vice-chairman Gail Palacios.
"We don't want children stranded in another part of the world," said member Leslie Baynes. "It's not prudent at this point. We need to recognize that when we do go around the world, we are targets."
School leaders abroad are making similar decisions. A group of German high school exchange students planning to arrive on the Vineyard this month decided to cancel. It was the same story for a group of English exchange students who were planning to visit West Tisbury.
"The exchange from England will not be coming," said West Tisbury teacher Julie Hitchings. "They were nervous about sending kids over here and something happening."
But despite the unanimity of the school committee, there was some grumbling. One woman asked Mr. Cash to explain what criteria school leaders will use to make decisions about trips after February. "Could you explain the parameters?" she asked. "How can one gauge more favorable conditions in February?"
Nelia Decker, a parent, asked if individual families could make the decision about whether students could go on trips, but school committee chairman Ralph Friedman was adamant in his response.
"It's either a school-sponsored trip or not," he said. "Authorizing a school trip with chaperones, arrangements and insurance, that's for the committee to decide."
But the Deckers and some other parents also find themselves in another bind, having paid $200 and $400 deposits for the trip to Egypt. Mrs. Regan explained the travel company that booked the trip won't give a refund, and would rather book another trip to a different destination or postpone Egypt until next year.
High school social studies teacher Elaine Weintraub encouraged the school committee to consider asking students to purchase trip insurance that would guarantee money back in case trips are canceled. Mrs. Weintraub, who sponsors an annual trip to Ireland, said the insurance costs $75 per student.
Trips still planned for March and April would send the Irish studies class to Ireland, a culinary arts class to Spain, a French class to Paris, a Spanish class to Spain and a building trades to Florida to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity.