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Ahead of verdict in first Freddie Gray case, some events back out of Baltimore; others stay put

School groups continued to roll in at the National Aquarium Tuesday, although some counties canceled all field trips to Baltimore for the entire week.
School groups continued to roll in at the National Aquarium Tuesday, although some counties canceled all field trips to Baltimore for the entire week. (Sarah Meehan)

With a wedding and a corporate holiday party scheduled for this weekend in Baltimore, Drew Vanlandingham's clients were keeping their plans despite any concern about potential reaction to an upcoming verdict in the trial of Officer William Porter.

As jurors deliberated his case Tuesday — Porter was the first police office charged in the death of Freddie Gray — Baltimore was readying for response to any decision. And, Vanlandingham said, because the city is more prepared than it was during April's unrest, he's confident events will go smoothly for his wedding planner firm, Vanlandingham Design Studio.

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Many school systems are keeping their students away from the city this week, but Vanlandingham said his customers were moving ahead with their events in part because they don't have other options. Venues are so busy during the holidays that it's difficult to relocate at the last minute.

"No one really knows what's going to happen, and it may not even be over this weekend," Vanlandingham said.

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Meanwhile, schools in Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties were being more cautious. The public schools in each of those counties dropped their field trips to Baltimore for the week.

"As a precaution, we have canceled any field trips going into the city for the reminder of this week," Jillian Lader, manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, said Tuesday.

School officials will "continue to evaluate and make any changes as needed," she said.

Lader said field trips have been going to Baltimore during the current school year. But Harford school officials canceled field trips to Baltimore after the unrest in late April. Field trips from late April through May 1 were canceled, and they were canceled again the week of May 4.

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Carroll County Public Schools canceled one field trip leaving from Robert Moton Elementary School Wednesday to Baltimore City, according to CCPS Assistant Superintendent of Administration Steve Johnson. The school system didn't have many field trips planned to Baltimore City within the next week, Johnson said, but chose to cancel the trip out of precaution under advice school system officials received from the Maryland Center for School Safety.

There are two other field trips scheduled from Sandymount and Winfield elementary schools to Baltimore Dec. 22, however, Johnson said the school system is waiting until after the verdict is announced before deciding whether to cancel those trips.

The Maryland Science Center saw an immediate impact from the cancellations when four school groups from Baltimore County backed out of their scheduled trips to the downtown attraction on Tuesday.

"That's the bulk of our business this time of year," Christopher Cropper, the science center's senior marketing director, said of school groups.

The groups that backed out Tuesday accounted for nearly 400 students. Cropper said he expects more cancellations as the week goes on.

"Once everything gets to a better place we hope they'll reschedule," he said.

It was a different story at the National Aquarium Tuesday morning, when students were still rolling in by the busload. By 11 a.m., the institution had already welcomed hundreds of students, an employee said.

Groups at the aquarium came from as close as Montgomery County and as far as Cape May, N.J. Jeff Martin, a biology teacher who brought a group of juniors and seniors from Lower Cape May Regional High School's marine science program, said his school district has been visiting the National Aquarium since the 1980s. Potential unrest resulting from the verdict didn't factor into their decision to make the three-hour trip.

"It didn't really occur to us," he said, adding the Inner Harbor is generally a safe area. "It's kind of a tradition, and we weren't fazed by any of the recent news or any of the events from the past year."

The Maryland Zoo at Baltimore reported no field-trip cancellations this week.

Vanlandingham said he expected his events to go off as planned, and the buildings downtown where his events were being held (he declined to name them) would be placed under lock-down for extra security.

"I think everyone's more alert this time. I think everyone's just expecting to be safe," Vanlandingham said. "This time I think they're expecting something, and typically things don't happen when you''re expecting something."

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters David Anderson, Lauren Loricchio and Lisa Philip contributed to this story.

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