Students should not endure 'unacceptable discrimination' at border, parent tells TDSB

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Students should not endure 'unacceptable discrimination' at border, parent tells TDSB

A Toronto parent is calling on the Toronto District School Board to cancel all previously planned trips to the United States this year due to concerns about restrictions at the border.

The TDSB, which serves about 245,000 public school students, announced last week that no future trips to the U.S. will be booked but previously scheduled trips that have already been approved will go ahead. 

It said about 25 trips involving about 900 students will proceed this school year. It also said the groups will turn back if any students with appropriate documentation are turned away.

In a letter dated Feb. 23, Yael Padawer called on the board to take a stand against moves by U.S. President Donald Trump to restrict who can enter the country. The letter, sent to TDSB trustee Shelley Laskin, is signed by 35 people, including other parents, students and concerned citizens.

Padawer, a mother of two high school students, said the issue is about equity, not just about safety or logistics, and it means the board would take a stand in solidarity with all of its students. 

"Although the US travel ban targeting citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries is currently not in effect, there is no sense that TDSB students and staff will be treated equitably at the border," Padawer writes in the letter.

The travel ban has been revised to target six predominantly Muslim countries.

"We do not want school trips planned where some students, because of their faith or family origins, are forced to either choose not to go on a trip or to risk intense and unacceptable discrimination at the border," the letter says. 

"These students should not have to endure that, and their classmates should not, and will not, stand by quietly while this happens to their friends. This is not safety and this is not equity."

Padawer said her son's school, Bloor Collegiate Institute, cancelled a Grade 12 trip to Washington, D.C. planned for the spring because of the restrictions. She said the TDSB should be demonstrating more leadership on the issue, not leaving it up to individual schools or parents to decide.

'Nobody should participate'

Some schools are more diverse than others and that means they are under more pressure, she said. 

"The pressure is actually being shifted onto parents to take their kids out of trips so that they don't ruin it for everybody else," she said.

Laskin has responded to the letter but Padawer said there was no promise to reopen the debate on the issue.

"If anyone is at risk of being stopped at the border, then nobody should participate," she told CBC Toronto. "The board is for all of the students and the board should protect and has a responsibility to protect and not put at risk any of its students."

Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the TDSB, said the board reviewed the decision but there are no plans to reconsider it.

"We have struck a balance between recognizing that there is uncertainty at the border with the pending executive order, which may or may not come into play due to the court challenges, while at the same time recognizing that we have hundreds of students who have planned, fund raised, worked hard to reach certain levels of competition down in the States, that would have had their trips completely cancelled," Bird said.

Bird said the board will continue to monitor the situation and may revisit its decision if it receives new information.

One of the 25 previously scheduled trips involves 100 students who will go to Anaheim, Calif., for a DECA conference. DECA is an international association of high school and college students that prepares leaders and entrepreneurs for careers and education in business.

According to the board, existing trips will be cancelled and refunded if the U.S. enacts any rules that would bar certain students from crossing the border. 

Trump announced new travel restrictions earlier this month that would affect who can enter the country, but those changes have been on hold as they face several court challenges.