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Carroll school system ban on field trips to Baltimore to be lifted Jan. 2

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)

A little more than two weeks after suspending student travel to Baltimore City, Carroll County Public Schools announced Friday morning that the restrictions on field trips to Baltimore will be lifted as of Jan. 2, due to modifications made in field trip security guidelines.

The restrictions were put in place by Superintendent Stephen Guthrie on Nov. 22, after a recommendation was made by Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees in response to an email of parental concern about violence and crime in the city. Guthrie did not respond to calls for comment Friday.

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The move was controversial in some circles, with Carroll parents divided on the issue while many outside of Carroll criticized the move.

According to Duane Williams, supervisor of school security and emergency management, the guidance was not an outright ban, but trips would be considered on a case-by-case basis. However, in an email outlining the new CCPS guidelines for field trips to Baltimore City, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Steven Johnson stated that any trip planned for Baltimore that could be moved to a different location or canceled should be and no new trips were to be planned until CCPS re-evaluated the situation at the beginning of the second semester in January.

Carroll County Public Schools spokeswoman Carey Gaddis said that in the two weeks between the announcement of the new policy and lifting of it, at least two field trips into Baltimore City went on as planned while several others were canceled.

In a statement sent to the Times, DeWees said although the policy has changed to allow trips into Baltimore City once again, he will continue to follow along with further developments and may make suggestions in the future.

“I still have concerns that can only be mitigated with time for those actions to make an impact,” DeWees said in the statement. “I will continue to work closely with CCPS, and I will always share my concerns when it comes to the safety of everyone I swore to protect.”

According to Friday’s release, Guthrie and DeWees worked together during the suspension of travel into Baltimore City to develop field trip guidelines that allow the resumption of travel to Baltimore for Carroll students. 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 decreased crime in the city over the past month.

“The collaborative effort between Superintendent Guthrie and my office brought about positive changes that will ensure that student and staff safety is our paramount concern regardless of where they travel,” DeWees was quoted as saying in the release.

Altered guidelines include notifying the Baltimore Police Department of all field trips into the city through a field trip notification form, establishing methods of communication between all staff, chaperones and bus drivers prior to the field trip, and a banning of unsupervised student time during a field trip.

The modified guidelines are posted on the CCPS website at www.carrollk12.org.

Williams said many of the changes in policy relate to communicating existing guidelines to teachers and administrators and tweaking existing rules. He said they are aiming to emphasize the importance of situational awareness for those planning field trips, and taking into account factors including the age of students, travel routes and levels of security before committing.

The guidance that all field trip plans must be submitted to Baltimore police is actually one that has been in effect since the unrest in Baltimore in 2015. Williams said the only difference is now he is personally responsible for notifying the group, whereas before, each school’s principal was required to notify them.

One of the only major changes in the new guidelines is that students are no longer allowed unsupervised time during field trips. Williams said in the past, older groups had some latitude to go off-site during unstructured time for lunch, but now must be accompanied by a chaperone or other adult.

Devon Rothschild, president of the county Board of Education, said she was personally thrilled to hear 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.”

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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 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.”

In Friday’s press release, Guthrie expressed his gratitude to DeWees for his part in developing these new 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 in a prepared statement, also thanking Hogan and Pugh. “We appreciate their efforts and the steps they are taking to enhance security.”

The Baltimore Sun contributed to this article.

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