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Carroll County schools superintendent lifts ban on field trips to Baltimore

Baltimore Councilman Zeke Cohen, who spoke with Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees earlier this week, comments on the county's now lifted ban on school field trips to the city. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun video)

Carroll County’s schools superintendent said Friday that he is lifting a ban on field trips to Baltimore, saying county law enforcement officials were encouraged by recently announced anti-crime initiatives.

The rural county’s ban on Baltimore field trips will end Jan. 2, the superintendent said. When field trips to the city’s cultural attractions — such as museums and the Maryland Science Center — resume, they will have stricter rules that limit students’ unstructured time and require more communication among chaperons.

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The schools announced the travel ban last month based on a recommendation from Carroll County Sheriff James DeWees, who cited concerns for student and staff safety while the city is experiencing record levels of crime.

County Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said he and DeWees worked together to develop new field trip guidelines.

“He has played an integral role in helping us review and modify our field trip procedures and has been actively communicating with Baltimore City officials to gain a better understanding of their plans to improve public safety in high-tourist areas,” Guthrie said of DeWees.

The move came after Gov. Larry Hogan announced a series of anti-violence initiatives targeting Baltimore — such as increased patrols and a new crime council — and Mayor Catherine Pugh pointed to a decrease in crime in five targeted city neighborhoods since Oct. 30.

The relaxing of the ban came a week after Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen, a Democrat, invited DeWees, a Republican, to his Southeast Baltimore district for breakfast at the Modern Cook Shop in Fells Point.

Cohen said he emphasized how hard city officials were working to address the violence and how many cultural attractions and learning experiences the Carroll County students would miss by avoiding the city.

“We spoke candidly about violence,” Cohen said. “We listened to each other. We agreed to work together across partisan lines.”

The school system said no additional requests for field trips to Baltimore have been made this month, but the announcement will enable principals to become familiar with the modified procedures before trips resume.

According to Duane Williams, supervisor of school security and emergency management, school officials are emphasizing the importance of awareness for those planning field trips, and taking into account factors including the age of students and travel routes.

“A tremendous amount of work and communication has taken place over the past two weeks to improve the safety of our students taking field trips to Baltimore City,” DeWees said in a statement.

Baltimore has seen a particularly violent 2017 — with more than 300 homicides and violent crime up by 11 percent compared with last year.

But the month of November saw a 14 percent decrease in violent crime compared with the same month last year, according to citywide data.

“We appreciate their efforts and the steps they are taking to enhance security,” Guthrie said.

DeWees said he still has concerns “that can only be mitigated with time for those actions to make an impact. I will continue to work closely with [the county’s schools], and I will always share my concerns when it comes to the safety of everyone I swore to protect.”

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Cohen said he welcomed Hogan’s pledge of more state police help, and he said more Democrats and Republicans should try to work together.

“It shouldn’t be my plan versus your plan,” he said. “A healthy Baltimore means a healthy Maryland.”

Devon Rothschild, president of the Carroll County Board of Education, said Friday she was pleased to hear that the ban had been lifted. After the initial announcement, Rothschild expressed her concerns to DeWees in a Nov. 28 email asking the sheriff for the specific reasoning behind the ban and what it would take to advise lifting it.

“This seems like a happy medium,” Rothschild said. “There are some stricter guidelines for field trip procedures, but students will continue to have the opportunities they had.”

Rothschild said one of the school board’s primary focuses was on fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion, and field trips like the ones into Baltimore City are an integral part of implementing that.

The Carroll County Times contributed to this article.

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