School board buys seniors’ travel vouchers for canceled class Euro trip

| March 18, 2020 1:00 AM

On March 11, members of the Bigfork School Board voted to postpone a 10-day school trip to Europe over spring break and to buy refund vouchers from eight seniors and four parent chaperones who would no longer be eligible to participate the following spring. The cost of the vouchers was estimated at around $45,000 in total. Board member Paul Sandry was the only member to vote no on both the trip postponement and the purchase of the vouchers.

“I don’t think we should dictate whether they travel or not, but obviously I’m in the minority,” Sandry said.

Thirty-three students and parents had signed up for the trip, which involved stops in France, England, Germany and Switzerland.

Bigfork Middle School Principal Charlie Appleby said he was sad to lose the opportunity to travel with his students, but also had concerns about potentially being stuck and quarantined in Europe, where there are substantially more cases than in the U.S., according to CDC data.

“Between Monday and today, so much has come out with this … I don’t know that it [the trip] would ever happen anyways and I would hate to have us be on the tarmac on the 24th and have it be canceled then or cancelled once we get there,” Appleby said.

Parent Forest Keller, who was signed up for the trip along with his son, Ben, said he felt the board made the right decision. He was also grateful they opted to purchase the refund vouchers so the trip wasn’t a total loss for seniors and parent chaperones.

“I think in light of the recent events this week, the board doesn’t really have a choice. They have to be conservative and make the decision to put the kids safety first,” Keller said. “They were very generous in offering to buy the vouchers from the senior kids because once they graduate, they can’t participate in the school program … We lost the trip, but we’re not losing all of our money, too.”

“Everybody has to sit back and take things as they come,” he added.

As of Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued Level 3 travel warnings, recommending against any non-essential travel to Europe, China, South Korea, Iran, Venezuela, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Institutions on all levels throughout the country are canceling or postponing study abroad programs in line with CDC recommendations. ■