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TDSB rethinking US trip rules enacted after Trump travel ban

Last Updated Jan 18, 2018 at 4:52 pm EDT

Toronto District School Board building.

Students at public high schools in Toronto are hoping they will be allowed to attend competitions and conferences in the U.S. now that the school board is rethinking its policy barring travel south of the border enacted in response to President Donald Trump’s ban on visitors from some majority-Muslim countries.

Teens who have participated in American events in previous years say the Toronto District School Board’s suspension of trips to the U.S. could deprive kids of opportunities to network, develop academic and personal skills, and build their resumes.

Maisha Fahmida, a Grade 11 student at Bloor Collegiate Institute, called her attendance at a youth business conference in Anaheim, Calif., last year an “eye-opening” experience.

“I met so many different people, so many different talents,” Fahmida said. “You get to compete, you get to show your business skills. It’s just a platform at an international level that you wouldn’t get in Ontario or anywhere else in Canada.”

Fahmida and her friends have encouraged peers to send the board videos explaining why going to the U.S. would benefit their academic and personal development.

The board stopped planning trips south of the border in March 2017 in the name of “fairness, equity and inclusion” after Trump signed an executive order restricting entry into the U.S. by citizens of several majority-Muslim countries. The law currently bans travel to the U.S. from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

At the time, board officials said they worried certain students could be turned away at the border. However, the 24 school trips already planned were allowed to go ahead and no one had problems getting into the States, the board said.

Earlier this month, a board committee agreed trips related to high school student competitions and professional development opportunities should be able to go ahead. Trustees will vote Feb. 7 whether to approve the change.

“We were hearing from secondary students that the ban actually has the potential to adversely affect them,” Trustee Shelley Laskin said. “Students are concerned their lack of access to competitions disadvantages them among their peers and could adversely affect their opportunity for scholarships or post-secondary opportunities.”

Toronto parent Michael Quinlan said he is happy to see the board reconsidering the travel restriction.

“When they put in this (rule), it was all with good intentions but I think they were a little overzealous,” Quinlan said.

James Quinlan, a Grade 12 student, travelled to the same conference as Fahmida did last year. The experience, he said, made him more confident and helped inspire him to pursue a career in business.

Participation in such conferences and competitions helps with university applications, and could even help win post-secondary scholarships, Michael Quinlan said.

“The thing that bugs me is these kids have worked very, very hard,” Michael Quinlan said. “The only thing that may hold them back is that they have the misfortune of being in (Toronto).”

Even if the amendment passes, the board would maintain its “everyone or no one” policy, said Trustee Alexander Brown.

Hundreds of Toronto students are without Canadian citizenship and could face problems at the U.S. border, Brown said. Some may be from the countries caught up in Trump’s travel ban and could face problems at the border, he said.

“It would not be appropriate or in keeping with our equity stance for one or more students to be turned away at the border based on their country of origin,” Brown said.