Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Calm urged after trip shocker
Officials fear a curb on international school excursions
The violent and sudden end to a school trip to the Dominican Republic has not sparked a rush to keep Manitoba students at home.
Senior educators are advising against a hasty reaction after a shooting in the Dominican Republic cut short a trip there by students from two Manitoba high schools.
Minister awaits probe
"We are very grateful the students are now back home safe and are with their families. We are very concerned about the incident and have been assured that the superintendent of the school division will conduct a review to determine if anything could have been done differently. We are awaiting the conclusion of the review by the school division before determining if a province-wide review is necessary.
"We believe this was the fourth visit being done to this site by DSFM students in the Dominican Republic. The school division had a high level of confidence from a security perspective.
We will provide any support that the students or their family may require."
-- statement from Manitoba Education Minister James Allum
The educators fear an overreaction to the episode could affect dozens of international school trips from Manitoba.
"We are awaiting the conclusion of the review by the school division before determining if a province-wide review is necessary," Education Minister James Allum said in a statement Sunday.
Students from high schools in Ste. Anne and St. Jean Baptiste returned to Winnipeg at 5 a.m. Saturday after burglars shot a Dominican man they were staying with and briefly held five of the Manitobans at gunpoint early Friday morning.
"A lot of crying, but they were happy to see their families and friends. They're in good hands," Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine superintendent Alain Laberge said. "The families asked... to be left in peace."
The students from the school division were on an annual humanitarian mission to help an orphanage school in a rural area. None of the 26 students and adults was hurt, but the owner of their dormitory compound is in critical condition.
Laberge said he will conduct a thorough review, but said the same thing could have happened anywhere, including in Winnipeg.
"Before we throw out the water with the baby in it, I want to sit down and find out what happened," he said. "Going into some countries, you are confronted with the pain these countries are going through."
Allum issued a statement expressing confidence in the DSFM to handle the matter, and Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson urged that no one make any hasty decisions.
"It was a terrible event," Olson said. "It sounds like it was well-handled. We have home invasions in Winnipeg, but we still live here.
"Once you've guaranteed basic safety, you want the education system to respond rather than react," Olson said. "Can you learn anything? You don't want people to overreact -- school trips are an important part of a teacher's tool kit.
"You do want oversight and you do want a second look. I do worry something this frightening could get people to get cold feet."
Laberge was uncertain how many of the 18 students and eight teachers and parent-chaperones would be in school today at âcole Pointe-des-Chenes in Ste. Anne and âcole regionale Saint-Jean Baptiste.
The DSFM will have crisis-response staff in the schools today.
Students have been going to help the orphanage near Puerto Plata for several years, Laberge said. They had barely arrived Thursday when at least three gunmen broke into their compound and confronted four girls and a female teacher about 1:45 a.m. Friday.
The owner of the dorm, who Laberge was told is Canadian, intervened and was shot several times.
"It's a project we've been doing for years," Laberge said. "It's kind of a compound, four students per room, with a chaperone.
"The burglars went to the first room. They just wanted money, cameras."
Laberge said the students were not carrying much money because it was seen as "an invitation to be robbed."
"One of the girls spoke Spanish. She said, 'We have nothing,' " Laberge said.
That's when violence erupted.
"The owner (of the building) quickly stepped in between the kids and the burglars," he said. "All the students in the other rooms went into their closets, hiding."
The robbers fled and police soon arrived. DSFM officials were alerted within minutes and decided to pull the kids right away and bring them home.
They spent Friday evening in an airport in New York City and got back to Winnipeg at 5 a.m. Saturday. Since they flew out of Winnipeg at 1 a.m. Thursday for the trip, the students had not had a decent night's sleep since they were in their own homes Tuesday.
The DSFM is covering all the costs. Laberge is trying to find out the likelihood of any of the 26 in the group being called back to the Dominican Republic to testify in court -- five witnessed the shooting and saw the gunmen.
"This is where we want to ask questions," Laberge said. "They're witnesses; they might be called there again."
Out-of-country school trips in Manitoba public schools need the approval of the superintendent and school trustees. After 9/11, the province called a halt to foreign trips. Even after restrictions began to ease, some divisions were reluctant to let students go to even Minnesota or North Dakota.
School divisions generally reserve the right to cancel a trip if Ottawa issues warnings about dangerous conditions. School officials have rejected a few trips in the ensuing years, including one to Egypt, where German tourists had recently been murdered in an attack on their bus.
Olson said he can't recall anything remotely like this incident happening on a Manitoba school trip.
"Your kids go off to do the right thing -- I can't imagine the relief, once you know your kids are safe," he said.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2014 A3
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