Opening global doors

Changes to how the U.S. Department of State assesses and communicates travel risk to American citizens may prove to be a benefit for students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools by expanding international field trips in some countries.

The new protocols, announced in January, are more precise than the old ones. Instead of identifying risk by region, it's now done country by country. This means that if Germany has a terrorism event, all of Europe is no longer classified as too risky to visit. In addition, the department has added a fourth classification that addresses the possibility of moderate risk. Countries are classified as a 1 (use normal travel precautions); a 2 (exercise increased caution); a 3 (reconsider travel), or a 4 (do not travel). The new system also includes coding to explain a particular risk indicator, showing if it's crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health or other issues.

"The new system is much more granular," said Michele L. Henriquez, a district specialist in global studies who tracks students' international trips during the school year. "Now they are focusing on individual countries, rather than the entire region."

The new State Department policy required CMS to adjust its district one. The district adjusted its travel policy in early February after discussion between Superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox, Chief Academic Officer Brian Schultz, Kathy Elling, associate superintendent, school performance, and Henriquez.

"After closely reviewing the new protocols, we have developed a districtwide policy of no travel to countries classified as a 3 or a 4. A country classified as a 1 is no problem; we'll allow travel to countries classified as a 2 so long as parents are informed and have agreed to it," Henriquez said. "We want parents involved in all decisions involving their children but this one is particularly important to communicate clearly. Parents can also access the State Department site directly to see for themselves."

The State Department list of countries and their risk classifications can be viewed here.

CMS international travel is governed by district standards that link it closely to instructional goals. However, individual trips are typically proposed and arranged by schools. Once district approval has been given, the schools work with either an outside agency or through an exchange program to set up the travel plans.

Countries that CMS students will visit during February through April of this year include Germany, France, Costa Rica, Peru, Italy, Panama, Canada and Spain. Germany, France, Italy and Spain have a State Department risk classification of 2; the others are a 1. CMS students have completed field trips in September and October (before the new policies) to Argentina and China.

Trips are usually from eight to 15 days. Overall, there are 12-15 international field trips each year, Henriquez said. But she expects that number to rise with the new policies from the State Department and the district.

"We might see more activity," she said. "The doors seem to be open again."