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War could intrude on band's cruise

April 04, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

In two weeks members of South Hagerstown High School's band will perform in front of guests on a Royal Caribbean International cruise to the Bahamas, they hope.

The real world and the war in Iraq could intrude on the reward for which the students have worked hard practicing and raising money - money they can't get back.

"Personally, I don't feel threatened about going on the boat. I don't think we're going to be in any amount of danger because no one would let us go in harm's way," said senior Valerie Schmidt, 18, of Hagerstown.

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"I think that the cruise company is quite capable of making sure we were safe," Schmidt said. "I think if we were in that much danger, I don't think our government would let us travel."

Ultimately, it's up to parents to decide whether they want their children to go on the trip, said Boyd Michael III, executive director of secondary education for the Washington County Board of Education.

As of Thursday, the three-day cruise to the Bahamas was still a go for the band and all the students were still planning to go, Band Director Tony Domenico Jr. said.

But Washington County School Board officials could still decide, up to the moment students are boarding the ship, to cancel the trip for student safety reasons if world events warrant it or there is an attack on U.S. soil, Michael said.

"There's no reason right now to assume you're any safer or any less safe in Washington County than any place else," Michael said.

Senior Jared Dudley, 17, said, "There's two sides to it. We're leaving the country. We're leaving where the danger might be headed, but we're leaving the safety of the U.S."

Still, Dudley and other seniors said they trust Domenico's judgment.

"He wants to go on this trip and it's more for us than for him. He's going to look out for us before he let's us go and have fun."

"I wouldn't take them if I thought it wasn't safe," Domenico said.

The students will perform the morning of April 18 for the ship's guests and either a professional musician or a professor of music who will critique their performance and provide pointers, Domenico said.

The trip costs $684 per student and $724 per chaperone, South High Principal Mike Shockey said.

To pay for the trip, band members had several fund-raisers. They sold candy, pizza kits, flower seeds and bulbs, decorative flags, cookie dough, peanuts and Rebel Pride cards that provide discounts at participating merchants.

If students didn't raise enough to cover their expenses, they or their families covered the remaining cost, Domenico said. A few students' families are paying the full cost of the trip, he said.

To get their money back, the trip would have had to be canceled 30 days before departure, Shockey said.

Domenico sent a letter home to parents advising them of the cancellation policy and that school officials were planning the trip with students' safety in mind.

"The idea of losing that much money is upsetting, but being upset isn't going to make the money come back," Schmidt said. Schmidt's trip is being paid for by her fund-raising efforts, her and her parents.

Parents must sign a new permission slip that states that while school officials are planning trips with student and teacher safety in mind, "current military action increases the risk of travel."

While everyone should be concerned about world events, senior Kathleen Fawcett said she has no concerns about security on the cruise.

Fawcett, 17, took the same Bahamas cruise with her family as a sophomore.

"I know how tight security is and what a relaxed environment it is," Fawcett said.

Royal Caribbean International cruise ships have operated at the company's highest level of security since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said Jaye Hilton, manager of corporate communications for the Miami-based cruise company.

Security procedures include screening every piece of luggage and giving guests and employees identification cards that will be checked each time they board or depart the ship, Hilton said. When the ID cards are scanned they bring up a picture of the employee or guest on the computer to confirm the person's identity, she said.

Fawcett said school officials are making the correct decision letting students go.

"Terrorism affects everybody. A way that a terrorist wins is by causing people to live in terror. We feel we can't live in terror," she said.

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