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Field Trip Bans Spread In Charlotte Region As Coronavirus Becomes Pandemic

Gwendolyn Glenn

Union County, Gaston County and Iredell-Statesville Schools have joined CMS in canceling or restricting field trips to slow the spread of coronavirus, as the World Health Organization declared the virus and disease it causes a pandemic.

Tuesday night's announcement that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was pulling the plug on all student trips left families wondering what that meant for them — and whether they could get money back for prepaid trips.

Amanda Rusmisell says CMS did the right thing, even though she has already paid $345 for her son to go on an eighth-grade class trip to the Outer Banks in May.

"I think just as parents we have to be patient and let them figure this out and know that they’re going to advocate for us," she said. "I do hope that we get the money back."

She’s among a growing number of parents trying to figure out what it means to have field trips canceled for an indefinite period.

CMS and Union County Schools announced bans on field trips Tuesday, and Iredell-Statesville Schools joined the list Wednesday. Union and ISS are still allowing in-county outings, but CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said even local field trips are out until further notice. The exception, for now, is for sports and other school-sponsored competitions.

"We certainly understand and respect the fact that for many families this may create a hardship, and we’ll certainly work with all families and vendors at the appropriate time," he said.

Students from Charlotte’s Piedmont Middle School boarded a plane for a New York City trip Tuesday morning – and were summoned back that afternoon without ever leaving the airport.

Winston spoke for less than three minutes at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, then huddled with staff and reporters afterward to clarify what was happening. He said the situation is changing fast, and added that the status of sports and other competitions could change based on advice from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, health officials and other superintendents.

He had banned international school-related travel last week.

Spring is the time when many schools hold out-of-state trips and year-end outings – and when all sorts of regional, state and national competitions bring students together. None of the districts are setting a time frame on travel bans because everyone’s watching to see how COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — spreads. 

Gaston County Schools announced Wednesday that it has canceled out-of-state, international and overnight field trips, while allowing in-county events and reviewing trips to other North Carolina counties.

School systems in Catawba County and Rock Hill, Fort Mill and York County, South Carolina, say they’re reviewing trips on a case-by-case basis but not issuing across-the-board bans.

Kate Uslan, who has fifth- and eighth-graders in CMS, has been trying to figure out what the ban means for her family. She had decided not to pay $500 for her eighth-grader to go to Washington, D.C., but she ticks off a long list of upcoming trips: A state Odyssey of the Mind tournament in Greensboro next weekend; a CMS chess tournament, which has been canceled; an orchestra competition in Winston-Salem; field trips to the Jewish Community Center, Discovery Place and Carowinds.

Uslan is still piecing together what's on and what's off from news reports and her kids' schools.

Imagine that kind of scheduling playing out in tens of thousands of homes around the region and you get the idea of what families and schools are grappling with. Uslan says she’s willing to be patient.

"I certainly don’t envy them," she says "I think it’s new to everyone."

Of course, the toughest decision is ultimately whether to close schools. Education Week reports that as of midday Wednesay, more than 1,200 schools in hard-hit areas of the United States have closed or announced closings, affecting more than 850,000 students.

Winston says CMS schools will remain open unless there’s a confirmed case among staff or students.