West Tisbury School trip diverted after terror attack

West Tisbury students wait at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal on their way to St. Lucia, after their trip to England was diverted because of recent terrorist attacks. — A.M. Dropick

School leaders canceled the West Tisbury School trip to England in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack, where a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured 59 on May 23 at an Ariana Grande concert. Eighth grade students who were supposed to fly into Manchester on June 3 instead went to St. Lucia on June 4.

The U.K. raised the threat level of a terrorist attack to “critical” after the Manchester bombing, meaning an attack was “expected imminently,” according to the MI5 website, the U.K.’s counterintelligence and security agency.

“That was the word to me that said we cannot send our students in that type of situation,” Matt D’Andrea, superintendent of schools, told The Times on Tuesday. “Our priority is to keep our students safe, so we made the decision to cancel that trip.”

With the second terrorist attack on June 3, Mr. D’Andrea said, he knew that he and Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, the school principal, had made the right decision. Three terrorists drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge, and then stabbed people in Borough Market, killing seven people and injuring 36, according to published reports from the British Broadcasting Co. (BBC).

The current threat level for international terrorism in the U.K. is “severe,” according to the MI5 website, meaning an attack is “highly likely.” The U.S. Department of State issued a Europe travel alert on May 1 for the continued threat of terrorist attacks throughout Europe.

“Certainly the threat level is what I’m constantly looking at whenever our students are traveling overseas,” Mr. D’Andrea said.
The student handbook for the West Tisbury School acknowledges that the trip to England is a tradition, but states that another trip would be offered if the political climate does not allow for international travel.

“If the political climate or other considerations do not allow for international travel, a domestic trip may be offered,” the handbook states. “The decision of what domestic trip is taken in lieu of the exchange rests solely with the school administration.”
Students will be in St. Lucia until June 9. Had they gone to England, students would have returned on June 12.

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt, who is in St. Lucia with students and could not be reached for comment, arranged the sudden change of plans, Mr. D’Andrea said. “[She] worked very quickly and diligently to look at several options for trips and costs, and she was able to pull something together in a relatively quick timeline,” he said.