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Should Baltimore ban field trips to Carroll County?

Baltimore’s mayor says crime is “out of control.” A city homicide detective was killed in broad daylight, leading police to put an entire neighborhood on lockdown for days. Two weeks later, police have no suspect, and the slow drip of information about the case from the police commissioner has only deepened the unease. A handful of crimes allegedly committed by young people have gotten a great deal of attention, leading many who have been able to ignore the now three-year-long spike in violence to suddenly give it fresh concern. Given all that, we can understand why some parents, particularly those living in outlying areas of the region whose experience of what like is like in this city is mainly derived from the TV news and the pages of this paper, might be worried about whether it is safe for their children to go on field trips here. It should be the job of school officials to reassure those parents that they can and will take the appropriate steps to ensure students’ safety, not to fan their fears.

The root of Carroll County’s decision to suspend school field trips to Baltimore City appears to be a complaint by a parent that city police had arrested a 15-year-old who had a fake gun in Rash Field at the same time that a class from Hampstead was visiting the Maryland Science Center. But threats can come anywhere. On Sunday, a man was arrested with a real switchblade in Westminster after he allegedly got into a fight with another man in a Wawa parking lot. Last week, another man was arrested in the Westminster Walmart with a “concealed hatchet” in his pants, according to police. Last Monday, a Manchester man was arrested on charges of choking and threatening to kill a woman. On the same day, state troopers pulled over a car driving through Carroll County and found a loaded, .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic handgun that had been reported stolen. Earlier this month, police arrested a man they say broke into a house in Finksburg and grabbed a woman by the neck.

Should Baltimore ban its students from going on field trips to Carroll County? Of course not. None of those incidents involved students on field trips, but then again, neither has the violence in Baltimore City.

An email to parents in Westminster announcing the cancellation of field trips said the new policy came as a result of “consultation with law enforcement and Maryland Center for School Safety.” The latter is a branch of state government created in 2013 that “disseminates information on best practices, programs, and resources; provides technical assistance and training; collects, analyzes, and integrates statewide data; and promotes interagency efforts to ensure safe schools.” It does not provide districts advice on where to go or not go. Its director does send districts pertinent information about crime and gives advice on things like how to arrange field trip transportation to ensure student safety — things that officials should bear in mind for excursions in Carroll County and Baltimore City alike.

No question, crime is higher in Baltimore City than it is in Carroll County. It always has been and probably always will be. And we would be the last to downplay the recent levels of violence in Baltimore, a toll that disproportionately affects parts of the city that, for better or worse, are rarely if ever visited on field trips. But we are also among the hundreds of thousands of people who come to downtown Baltimore every day, and we can attest that it provides opportunities for enrichment that nowhere else in the region can match. No field trip is without the possibility that something could go wrong, but a high school band can certainly march safely in a parade alongside dozens of others on a route packed with thousands of men, women and children cheering it on. A third-grade class can certainly enter and exit the Maryland Science Center through its bus drop-off zone without fear. We understand that it is parents’ job to worry about the safety of their children, but it is the schools’ job to expose students to the wider world. With this decision, the Carroll County Board of Education is abandoning that responsibility. We hope it will reconsider.

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