Hall County Schools officials have canceled more than 20 field trips to the downtown Atlanta area amid traffic and safety concerns since a portion of a bridge on Interstate 85 collapsed in a fire March 30.
Officials have set a June 15 deadline for the bridge repair work to be completed, but that is after the 2016-17 school year has ended.
Hall Superintendent Will Schofield told school board members at a meeting Monday night that the district reviewed and put a hold on all field trips to the downtown Atlanta area. He said approximately 24 school field trips were ultimately canceled.
“We’ve just heard too many horror stories,” Schofield said. “If you’re fortunate enough to get into Atlanta and there’s no slip between the cup and the lip on (Interstate) 285, you can get there; it just takes significantly longer. But what we’ve seen is you get any kind of a mishap on 285, and we’ve been monitoring the stories of people in traffic for three and four hours. When those are 6-year-olds going to a museum, that’s just not worth that potential to us.
“I want to apologize to all the students who raised money and were hoping to go to the aquarium or somewhere downtown, but again, we have an obligation to get those kids safely where they’re going and to get them back home,” Schofield added.
Kevin Bales, Hall County assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, asked board members Monday night to approve eight field trips, noting that seven were scheduled to out-of-state locations. The only one in Georgia is a group going to the Special Olympics at Emory University May 19-20 in Atlanta.
“We did confirm that the location is on this side of the interstate collapse in Atlanta, and we believe we’ll be able to pull off that field trip with the board’s approval,” Bales told the board,
Bales said Wednesday some schools have planned alternative field trips since the school district wasn’t approving any trips into the downtown Atlanta area.
Laurie Hitzges, principal of the middle school at World Language Academy, said her school had four Atlanta trips canceled — two to the Center for Civil and Human Rights, one to the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum and one to the Georgia Aquarium. Eighth-grade students were scheduled to go to the Center for Civil and Human Rights on March 31, the day after the bridge collapse.
“We were texting back and forth and everybody was watching the news saying, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going on? I guess we’re not going on the field trip tomorrow,’” she said. Hitzges said students and parents were notified of the cancellation that night once the decision was made.
“They were disappointed, but they understood,” she said. “We didn’t know what it would be like the next morning.”
Hitzges and her staff worked to provide alternatives. One group went to a gold mine in Dahlonega, and another group is going to the Mall of Georgia, which is doing a special showing of the new Disney movie “Born in China,” which fit the students’ social studies standards.
“We’ve tried to do things a little more local that follow our standards,” she said. “Some were successful and some not so much.”
Priscilla Collins, chief professional services officer for Gainesville City Schools, said her district has not canceled any field trips due to the I-85 bridge closure. A group is going Friday to the High Museum of Art in downtown Atlanta.
DeAnna Browne, director of development and marketing at Lakeview Academy in Gainesville, said Tuesday that no field trips have been affected by the I-85 closure and she did not know of a field trip taken by any group at the school to downtown Atlanta since the bridge collapse.