U.S. travel concerns scuttle class trip to Holocaust museum

Rani Majumder's students were looking forward to a trip to a Holocaust museum in the U.S. — until President Donald Trump's travel ban prompted the school board to cancel the trip.

Majumder, who grew up in Burlington, N.L., but teaches in Ontario, told CBC Radio's Central Morning that teachers at her Kingsville school were planning to take their Grade 7 and 8 students north across the Michigan border to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills as part of their studies of Holocaust novels.

No such thing as 'them vs. us,' says teacher

"My class in particular, we were really studying this idea that 'them vs. us' is a lie, that there's no such thing, and that dangerous things can happen when we start to buy into that idea," she said, adding that the studies would culminate in the trip to the centre.

After Trump began his attempts to implement travel restrictions on people from several Muslim-majority countries, Majumder said one of her students expressed concerns about going to the U.S.

"There are a number of children at our school who are of Iraqi descent," she said. "We have lots of Muslim kids, lots of girls wearing a hijab. And I thought, 'My god, I guess we'll check this out.' It hadn't crossed my mind."

Majumder spoke to the school principal, who consulted the school board.

"They thought about it, and after doing a little research and seeing that a number of people had been stopped at the border, a number of people had been put in uncomfortable situations that we didn't want to do to our kids, the board decided that we couldn't go, which was a bummer, to say the least," she said.

Majumder's school isn't alone; the Toronto District School Board won't schedule any new trips to the U.S., although it is allowing ones previously scheduled to go ahead.

The kids were disappointed, said Majumder, and a few were angry.

"It's hard to get too political in the classroom, as much as I want to. They were just super-sad. We're still kind of hoping one day, maybe even before the end of the year, we can actually take them," she said.

"But at this point we're going to hold off, because we've heard so many stories. Not so much kids, but adults, who've been stopped for no reason, at the border, other than wearing a hijab. Stopped for hours, and that's not OK. So we can't put our kids through that."

It has,though, provided the chance to to talk to the students about a variety of issues, including the democratic process.

"We could wallow in the sadness and get mad at Donald Trump, but we talked a lot about the importance of voting," she said.

"We're bummed — what do we do with this? We tried to problem-solve a little bit. We had my stepmom come and speak to the kids in lieu of the trip. She grew up in Dachau and she lived just steps from the concentration camp."

Students are learning about the importance of casting a vote to have their say on how they're governed, she said, adding that several students have family members who didn't vote in the most recent federal election.

'It was an opportunity to say, your vote matters'

"So it was an opportunity to say, your vote matters," she said. "If you don't like this, there's a reason. This happened because people voted."

Majumder said one positive aspect of the decision is the message to the students that if any of the class might have trouble getting in, then they'll stick together by having none of them go. She said it's important for students to see someone taking a stand, especially as a large portion of the school's population now are Syrian refugees.

"Those children wouldn't have been able to go anyway, because they don't have their passports and all that stuff. But they hear that message, that's 'OK, these guys can't go. We're not going.' And that matters to them, and that's important to them."