West Hartford Public Schools Cancels Overseas Trips Due to Coronavirus Threat

Planned trips by West Hartford high school students to China, Italy, and a Eurotour that included visits to Germany and Spain planned for April vacation have been canceled.

By Ronni Newton

Superintendent Tom Moore sent a letter to all West Hartford Public Schools families last week, advising them of the protocols that were being put into place as the district monitored the spread both domestically and internationally of COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, and noted at the time that a decision would be forthcoming regarding planned overseas trips for both Conard and Hall students.

A trip planned to China – the epicenter of the coronavirus – had already been canceled in early February, Moore said.

This week, administrators and trip organizers made the very difficult decision to cancel the two remaining overseas trips, which included a combined Hall and Conard trip to Italy – where the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus has topped 2,000 and the country is classified high risk according to the Center for Disease Control – and the Hall Pops ‘n Jazz Eurotour to Spain and Germany.

“Obviously, we do not want to cancel any trips, as they are great opportunities for our kids, organized by teachers, to see the world,” Moore said.

Simsbury schools also sent a letter to families Tuesday, canceling overseas travel for April break.

Organizers have been working with the tour companies on the financial impact on West Hartford students of canceling the trips. “Each trip is different in terms of reimbursement, depending on the tour company. As you can imagine, basically all schools in the United States are canceling trips planned for later this year to Europe, and the tour companies are scrambling to keep up with what is happening,” Moore said.

In the case of the Italy trip, deposits are being refunded and “future travel vouchers,” which can be used on other tours, are being issued based on what has been paid minus the deposits. The vouchers will be able to be used for future trips, and can be sold or given to other students, according to a letter sent to families Monday night by trip organizers Jocelyn Tamborello-Noble and Meghan Zingle.

A letter to Eurotour families, signed by Hall Principal Dan Zittoun, Fine and Performing Arts Department Supervisor Andrew Mayo, and Hall Band Director James Antonucci, was sent out Tuesday afternoon, noting that the virus is expected to spread, and travel restrictions are expected to increase throughout the spring.

“This decision was not made easily and, ultimately, we are disappointed to not be able to travel to Spain and Germany, but the safety and wellness of our students and staff is always our number one priority.  The current health crisis in Europe continues to worsen and though it may be resolved by April, we did not want to risk anyone’s well-being,” the letter states.

Families whose children were planning to participate in Eurotour have been asked to contact the travel partner, Grandtours, regarding obtaining a refund in accordance with the trip insurance plan they selected and the amount paid to date. According to the letter, the company’s guidelines includes a cancellation fee of $1,500, which will remain in effect.

“We apologize for the disappointment to the students and community looking forward to this trip.  The opportunity to travel internationally is a wonderful educational experience, and we regret that students won’t be able to travel. The well-being and safety of our students is paramount in all decisions, and the coronavirus poses a threat not only to health, but especially to reliable international travel. We appreciate your understanding of this unforeseeable event,” the letter states.

Moore said this is not the first time that West Hartford Public Schools has canceled overseas trips, and in fact he was scheduled to lead trips both times they were canceled in the past.

The first time was the spring following September 11, Moore said, and then in 2003, when the war in Iraq began in March, overseas travel was also canceled. The decision in 2003 was similar to this year, with a greater impact on refunds of deposits since the cancellation was much more last minute.

As of Tuesday, no cases of coronavirus have been detected in Connecticut, although cases have been confirmed in neighboring states of New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

In a news release issued last week, the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District said that coronavirus has been declared as a public health emergency by both the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control, and both organizations have issued travel advisories and alerts. “The CDC expects that the United States will continue to see cases and does anticipate more community spread in the U.S. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection,” the release states.

The Health District noted that the virus is thought to be spreading from person-to-person via respiratory droplets produced through sneezing and coughing. While detailed information about exactly how coronavirus spreads is still limited, the following message about using everyday preventative actions is being stressed:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The Health District is also recommending that businesses update their continuity or response plans to incorporate the current coronavirus situation. “Review with your employees what your procedures or protocols will be if a large percentage of staff are unable to work due to illness,” the Health District said.

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