Canada's largest school system will no longer plan trips to the U.S. over fears students will be unfairly stopped at the border because of their heritage or country of birth.
"We don't want to put our students in a position where they are traveling to the U.S. with their friends and classmates and then be denied entry to the U.S. for no legitimate reason," Ryan Bird, spokesman for the Toronto District School Board, said Friday. "Equity, inclusiveness, fairness are key principles for us as a school board."
Although judges have temporarily blocked President Trump's revised travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, Bird said the board did not want to take the chance of it being put back into effect considering the months it takes to plan a school trip abroad.
The board said it will allow 25 trips involving 900 students to proceed as planned. However, Bird said if one student or staff member is denied entrance into the U.S. for no legitimate reason, then everyone on the trip will return to Toronto and the other planned trips will be canceled.
The Toronto district school board oversees 584 schools attended by 246,000 students. Bird said hundreds, and potentially thousands, of those students are from the six-Muslim majority countries listed on the ban — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. About 23% of students in the district were born outside of Canada.
A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection stressed that there are no new travel restrictions that would impede school excursions from Canada.
"As far as like a student coming across the border and a bus making a field trip, nothing is different than what it was for a field trip last year... so I don't know what the concerns would be about this year," said Dave Long, a CBP public affairs officer for Buffalo, N.Y., the busiest land entry point on the Canadian border and the one that Toronto buses would normally go through.
Long said schools normally contact border officials before a trip and provide a list of students, so that any problems, such as with documentation, can be sorted out before they get to the border. Long said he had not heard of the Toronto school board's decision before being contacted by the Los Angeles Times.
Out of the 1.2 million people coming into the U.S. daily, about 300 to 600 people are denied entry.
For Canadians, the amount of people turned back in the first quarter of 2017 was less than the first quarter of the last three years. In January and February 2016, about 3,500 Canadians were found inadmissible versus about 2,600 in the first two months of this year, according to the CBP.
In January, the Canadian government said U.S. officials gave assurances that Canadian citizens, including those with dual citizenship, would not be affected by the restrictions.
However, there have been cases of Muslim Canadians saying they were not allowed into the U.S. despite having Canadian passports.
This month, a Muslim Canadian woman says she filed a complaint with the U.S. after she was denied entry in February. She said she was stopped for four hours at the Quebec-Vermont border and asked questions about her mosque and opinions of President Trump.
"You turn on the television and you see stories about people being stopped at the border for no apparent reason," said Bird, the Toronto school board spokesperson.
He said the school board, which organizes dozens of trips to the U.S. each year, had been closely looking at Trump's executive order since it was announced.
Other Canadian school boards have also canceled U.S. trips over similar fears. The Greater Essex County District School Board, south of Toronto, canceled all trips to the U.S., which were scheduled for February, over concerns of equity, officials said.
Last week, the Girl Guides of Canada announced it would not plan future trips to the U.S. so "that no girl is left behind."
Jovanovski is a special correspondent.
3:15 p.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional details and quotes from Dave Long of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.