TDSB not making political statement with U.S. travel ban, spokesperson says

The Toronto District School Board isn't making a political statement by cancelling future trips to the United States over concerns about travel bans proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump, according to a spokesperson for the board.

The board announced Thursday that while previously scheduled trips that have already been approved will go ahead, no new trips to the U.S. will be booked.

On Friday, board spokesperson Ryan Bird told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that the ban is in effect "until further notice."

Asked whether the board is making a political statement by refusing to let students travel south of the border, Bird replied that the decision is based on the current state of the proposed bans.

"I think this is about the information that we have in front of us. I think it's about the equity and inclusion angle," Bird said. "I'm not naïve to say that it doesn't make a statement, but the decision is not being made as a statement."

The board's main concern is making sure no students are put in a position where they are turned away at the border even if they have all the necessary documentation.

"We have heard anecdotal stories of the executive order, in some cases when it was in place before, preventing people even with the appropriate documentation from crossing the border, and we don't want to put our students in that position," Bird said. "What we're saying is if this executive order is fully implemented, it could cause problems for our students and we don't want to put them in that situation."

Board doesn't want students to miss out

The board, which serves about 245,000 students, approves "dozens" of trips to the United States each year, Bird said.

According to Bird, 25 previously organized trips with about 900 students will go ahead as planned. But TDSB chair Robin Pilkey said Thursday that if any students with proper documents are stopped at the border, the entire group will turn back.

"We're committed as a school board to equity, inclusiveness and fairness, and it's not appropriate that some students would not be able to attend based on their country of birth," Pilkey said.  

Earlier this month, Trump made a second attempt at bringing in new travel restrictions, particularly against travellers from specific countries. These changes have been suspended pending court challenges.

The proposed bans have sparked international outrage, and led other school boards and groups in Canada to suspend travel to the U.S.

Bird said the board will revisit its decision if anything changes in U.S. policy.

For now, the board is hearing from parents and students on both sides of the issue, he said. Some families are asking why all trips haven't been cancelled, while others want the trips to go ahead because in some cases, the students are travelling to competitions that they have spent lots of time preparing for.

"Hundreds of kids have been working months in some cases, fundraising, planning, working hard on competitions to get to where they are," Bird said, "and we don't want them to miss out on those opportunities."