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Harford schools' ban on trips to city lifted

Harford County school officials lifted their ban Monday on field trips and other travel to Baltimore.

The decision came after Harford County Executive Barry Glassman urged the school system to reconsider the ban, and Baltimore elected officials criticized the county's schools for denying children access to rich cultural experiences.

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"We received feedback about our decision and accusations surrounding our reasoning and want to reiterate that it is never an easy decision to cancel something that our students are looking forward to," schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan said in a statement Monday evening. "We have a long history of supporting the cultural attractions in Baltimore City and look forward to continuing our visits to and nurturing our students' appreciation for these cultural offerings."

The county had banned field trips to Baltimore indefinitely, citing safety concerns following the unrest last spring after the death of Freddie Gray.

After the riots of April 27, school systems around the region canceled field trips. That policy changed within a month as the city returned to normal. But when the trial of the first police officer charged in Gray's arrest and death got underway in December, some school systems, including Baltimore County and Harford County, again canceled trips.

All other counties have since lifted the prohibition, but Harford County took a different position — until Monday. Caravan said the school system rescinded the ban based on new information from law enforcement officials.

Glassman had urged school officials earlier Monday to find "that balance, making sure that we can ensure the safety [of students] and making sure that we help our regional cultural institutions out."

"It's a trade-off in this region," said Glassman, a Republican who recently became chairman of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. "We all have to work together and support each other if we're going to be successful."

He said institutions in Baltimore such as the National Aquarium, Maryland Zoo and various cultural entities benefit financially from visitors from outside the city, but "the children also benefit from learning and seeing different environments."

School officials said their decision was not the result of criticism. "No, it was not influenced by elected officials. Our No. 1 interest is the safety of children," said Jillian Lader, a spokesperson for the county school system.

Canavan said in her statement that the county schools would continue to meet on a weekly basis to consider the travel issue. "We will continue to evaluate travel ... and will put the safety of our students first in this and in all of our decisions."

The reinstatement of the field trips was welcomed by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. "The mayor is pleased that Harford County students will again have the opportunity to experience the many benefits of visiting Baltimore's wide array of cultural institutions," said the mayor's spokesman, Howard Libit.

Gray, 25, suffered a spinal cord injury while in Baltimore police custody in April, and died a week later. His death sparked widespread protests, and his funeral was followed by a night of rioting, looting and arson. Six officers were charged in Gray's arrest and death on May 1 and were later indicted.

The schedule for the officers' trials has changed multiple times in recent weeks, and could change again.

The next trial, of Officer Edward M. Nero, is scheduled to begin Feb. 22. Two others — Officer Garrett E. Miller and Lt. Brian W. Rice — are scheduled to go to trial in early March.

However, prosecutors have asked the court to delay those three trials pending an appeal they have filed in the Court of Special Appeals. They are challenging the lower court's decision not to force another officer, Officer William G. Porter, to testify in their trials.

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The trials of two other officers, Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr. and Sgt. Alicia D. White, had been scheduled to begin by now but were postponed by a separate appeal pending regarding Porter testifying in their trials.

The Court of Special Appeals could take months to make a decision in the Goodson and White cases. If it takes up the prosecution's appeal in the Nero, Miller and Rice trials, they could be delayed by months as well.

Porter's trial in December ended in a hung jury. A small, nonviolent protest followed; two people were arrested.

Porter's retrial has been scheduled for June.

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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