Catholic schools halt trips to Washington after Paris attacks

The fourth- and fifth-graders at St. Ambrose School in Annandale were all ready to explore the National Air and Space Museum Nov. 17 when Catholic schools were advised not to travel into the capital city.

"In light of the recent happenings and the increased security in some areas, you are urged to not have your students take field trips to D.C.," Sister Bernadette McManigal, the diocesan superintendent of schools, emailed the principals. "I realize this is an inconvenience, but it seems necessary at this time."

After the terrorist attacks on Nov. 13 that left 130 dead and more than 350 wounded in Paris, a video was released, purportedly by the Islamic State group, saying Vatican City and Washington would be the next targets. As of Nov. 19, Italy was on high alert, looking into possible terrorist attacks on St. Peter's Basilica and Italian cities.

The students' study of outer space was not lost, however, said Angela Rowley, principal of St. Ambrose School in Annandale. The field trip was relocated to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum in Chantilly. "They were able to stay on curriculum and line up with everything they were going downtown to see," said Rowley. Parents, she said, felt relieved and were happy to go with the flow.

Many local college students studying abroad in Europe have had to adjust plans. Colleen McCrum, a junior from Christendom College in Front Royal studying in Rome, said major group events have been canceled, though students are still encouraged to do things in smaller numbers.

Students were reminded to keep their emergency contact cards always on them and to be able to travel from school to their residence on foot, in case public transportation shuts down. They also can sign up for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a service through the State Department which allows travelers to register their travel plans and receive security updates from the nearest U.S. embassy.

Though the changes are disruptive, safety is the number one responsibility of school administrators, said Austin Poole, principal of Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Vienna. The OLGC sixth-grade class had scheduled a trip to the U.S. Capitol in early December, but the trip has been postponed until the situation stabilizes, said Poole. Though the students and many of the parents were excited for the tour, he said, "We have to make sure safety is our number one goal."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015