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  • Josie McCartney

DCPS Permits, Cancels and Reinstates Much-Loved Walls Rome Trip

Mr. Ackerman (upper left), Ms. Brinley (lower right) and students at St. Peter’s Basilica in 2019 / Credits: Jan McGlennon

For almost a decade, Rome has been a favorite destination for Walls travelers over the long Thanksgiving weekend. The trip occurs regularly every other year, most recently in 2019, but students were unable to travel last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, DCPS threw extensive plans for a 2022 trip into chaos by initially canceling it. But to the relief of many parents, students, and faculty, central offices allowed the 10-day trip to go forward in a last-minute reversal over February break in 2023.

History teacher Carlton Ackerman, Latin teacher Jane Brinley and English teacher Jan McGlennon have led 16 students throughout Rome and its surrounding areas four times before. The three teachers, all passionate about the language, history, art, and culture of Italy, developed their own itinerary that includes olive picking, an afternoon in Ostia, visits to various historical sites and museums, and bike rides along the Appian Way.

Reminiscing on past trips, Mr. Ackerman recalled, “Somehow we always end up having an adventure that we weren’t expecting [and] coming together as a group…it’s like [the students] become part of the city.”

Like students and families, these faculty members were dissatisfied with the first DCPS ruling against the trip. In an interview, Ms. Brinley explained her perspective on the timeline.

“We put the request in [for DCPS approval] in April, following the standard procedure that we’d followed [when planning past Rome trips],” she said. “We waited until right up when we had a deadline with the airline. And then, when we couldn’t make that deadline with the airline, we lost our tickets.”

Ms. Brinley continued, “Sometime after that, we got word that [DCPS] wouldn’t approve it.”

Senior Katrina Tracy, who planned to go on the November trip, called the time after the trip was canceled “a devastating couple of days.”

Penny Hruby, another student hoping to go to Rome, concurred. “I was really, really sad,” she said. “Obviously I was concerned we wouldn’t get refunded at first [for plane tickets], but we did get refunded.”

Hruby described yearslong excitement about going to Rome. “When I came to Walls as a freshman, one of the big selling points was all of these international trips that Walls [students] got to go on,” she said. “We haven’t had the chance to do that in my high school career, so I’m very excited.”

International travel had long been popular at Walls pre-pandemic, with students and faculty traversing the Andes of Peru, exploring the cities and temples of India, and scuba diving in the tropics. The upcoming trip will consist entirely of seniors given that the pandemic disrupted their travel opportunities in high school.

“It’s been such a rough ride for this group of seniors,” said Richard Tracy, Katrina’s father. “[A] culminating trip with classmates and friends [would be] too good an opportunity to pass up. We ha[d] to try to do something to make sure this group of students can have that experience.”

After news broke about the trip’s cancellation, Richard Tracy led an effort by families to appeal the decision from DCPS. “I reached out to the parents and students who had committed,” he said, “and I said, ‘We need to write to people, we need to let it be known that this is something that we want to have happen.’”

In a sudden turnaround in September, families and teachers received notice that DCPS had approved the trip. “We were told ‘You're going — in fact we want you to go, and we want to use your trip to model your trip to learn how you do it and why you do it because it might be useful to other schools,’” Mr. Ackerman said.

“We don’t know why, we can only speculate,” Ms. Brinley said of the inconsistency from DCPS. “This is happening at two or three levels above us, so we’re just not privy to what’s going on, unfortunately.”

One person familiar with DCPS thinking explained that the school system initially did not sanction the trip because administrators believed it would be unfair to other schools without the “responsible faculty willing to make this trip possible,” and said DCPS viewed the trip as an equity issue.

“What I have learned with this experience is that we need something officially in writing from DCPS that says ‘yes,’” Mr. Tracy concluded. “Sadly, bureaucracy respects paper.”

DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee did not respond to a request for comment.


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