Due to concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, the annual Alternatives trips and Music Tour have been canceled. The school community was notified of this development by email Feb. 28.
The trips were originally scheduled to occur March 23-26, with several trips planned to visit continental Europe. However, the amount of coronavirus cases in Italy specifically has surged to over 400 cases, causing the virus to spread to other European countries and increasing the risk of an epidemic in Europe.
Head of School Robin Appleby said that the decision to cancel the trips was made in order to prioritize students’ health and safety. She said the school looked at the rapidly developing changes across Europe and realizes that, since the trips are four and a half days long, conditions could worsen during that time.
“We might face the risk of not being able to get a group back or having a group have to go into isolation,” she said. “When you combine that with the risk of someone becoming ill and the responsibility and stress that could create for our employees … we just decided it wasn’t in anybody’s best interest to go ahead at this time.”
The school started to reevaluate having alternatives during February break when it was confirmed that COVID-19 had spread to Italy. When the number of cases jumped from 11 to 400 between Feb 24-25, Appleby said the school saw how quickly the severity could increase.
“We realized this was something we were going to have to look at really quickly and probably make a decision by the end of this week,” she said. “A lot of our trips go to smaller locations, and it could be difficult to get the right medical care or figure out how we get people back if they’re quarantined.”
Appleby stressed the importance of students’ safety despite the value of the trips.
“It’s really unfortunate, but we just felt we have to do the right thing for everyone at the ASL community and then we also have to try to contribute to the wider world effort to reduce the spread of the virus by minimizing travel,” she said.
After receiving the email, Talia De Beer (’20), who was on the stargazing alternative to the Canary Islands, was “really upset” by the cancelation.
“It’s our senior year, so it’s our last opportunity to go on Alternatives,” she said. “I was looking forward to spending time with friends and teachers that I haven’t had a chance to have a class with this year.”
In terms of the possibility of refunding the cost of the trip, Appleby said the school will be able to get a “good portion” of the money back. She said that the school will receive refunds from most of the hotels as they are giving several weeks notice and that the school has travel insurance. Despite it being difficult to get money back from the cost of flights, most alternatives would have traveled by train instead.
“No doubt some money will be lost but we can probably recoup the majority of it at this point,” she said.
Additionally, Appleby said any potential loss of money was not considered when deciding whether or not to cancel the trips.
“The most important thing is the health and safety of everybody involved,” she said.
During the week that Alternatives were originally supposed to occur, students will attend classes, although the Friday that week will not have classes as previously planned.
“I think what you should probably expect is mostly regular classes for those four days,” Appleby said. “I don’t think it will be things like going out around London doing Alternatives stuff for four days.”
De Beer said she thinks the school should plan alternate activities, such as trips within the U.K. or a senior retreat, during the week to make up for the cancelation.
“The whole point of Alternatives is to get us outside of the class setting just to stimulate areas of thinking that we don’t usually have the opportunity to look at in class,” she said. “If Alternatives are canceled they should definitely plan something else exciting.”
Although De Beer said that canceling alternative “might be a slight overreaction” she does recognize COVID-19 as quite a serious issue and understands why the school chose to cancel the trips.