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War jitters taking toll on school trips

PITTSBURGH — Terror jitters are rattling high schools across the country, with some school officials canceling student trips and others putting off decisions to see if the United States goes to war with Iraq.

Schools in at least 15 states have deferred or canceled travel plans because of security concerns — still a small percentage of those that remain committed pending events in the Middle East, according to companies that book school trips.

The school board for the Baldwin-Whitehall School District outside Pittsburgh canceled trips to several American cities five days after the nation's terror alert jumped from yellow to orange Feb. 7.

"The government says there's a high possibility that we will be attacked and we acted accordingly," said Ron Boyle, president of the school board. "We just can't take the chance."

In Maryland, the Anne Arundel County Public Schools called off a high school trip to London and banned trips to airports, federal installations and public utilities until further notice, Superintendent Eric Smith said.

Trips were also deferred or canceled by schools in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Wisconsin, Virginia, Idaho, Massachusetts and Arizona, according to travel companies.

Travel companies said they are in contact with the State Department, and that they would call off a trip if it were unsafe.

The American Council for International Studies, which books trips for as many as 30,000 high school students each year, said these are anxious times for the industry.

"Absolutely, a war in Iraq would have a great effect," said Joel Cody, an executive with the company. "Almost everyone is in a wait-and-see mode."

The Boston-based company had two schools cancel trips because of the terror alert or because of the possibility of a conflict in Iraq, Cody said.

The threat of terrorism has made schools more willing to delay a decision on travel, said Michael Forhan, an executive with the Passports travel company in Spencer, Mass.