<i>48 Hours</i>: Too Scared To Travel

Class Trip To Washington Threatened By Terrorism

In Madison, N.C., where the population is 2,300, the most pressing problems in the world are being solved over a slice of American cheese and a large corn dog.

Like the rest of their fifth-grade classmates at New Vision School, 11-year-old Dakota Holt and 10-year-old Paul Tetterton are debating whether to go to Washington, D.C., for their annual class trip, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman.

For more than a decade, Ann Bullins has been taking her class and their families to the nation’s capital. The planning starts when school does and usually begins with a fundraiser.

“I was eager to sell raffle tickets, said Paul, “I didn’t even want to do my homework.”

Determined little salespeople went on a no-holds-barred campaign to pry open wallets all over town.

“I kind of gave them the puppy dog face though, ” says one pupil, demonstrating a practiced wide-eyed look. “I could do better; I just didn’t want to make them feel really sad.”

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This year, the fifth graders made more than $30,000. The money sends not just kids, but parents and grandparents to Washington every November. Almost 10 percent of the town goes on the trip every year.

This year, after the events of Sept. 11, the question is: Now what?

“The children are absolutely divided when you talk to them about it,” says Bullins.

Dakota doesn’t want to go and her parents don’t want to send her there. Paul and his parents say, “This group should go.”

The whole fifth grade class became embroiled in what is becoming a national debate, forcing even the tiniest Americans in the tiniest towns to decide just how scared are we?

“I’m not going to be real scared because [terrorist leader Osama] bin Laden wants us to be,” says Paul. “Most of the kids are really scared and all to go, because of what’s happened.”

Dakota was worried about trrorists who might fill “a helicopter full of anthrax” and fly it “straight into the Washington Memorial or something” while the class was there. Her father was less specific, “I just didn’t have a safe feeling about it and she didn’t either.”

Dakota’s parent’s aren’t alone. The Smithsonian says museum attendance in Washington is down almost 40 percent. Many schools are already reconsidering plans for next year - and the year after that - which makes some leading educators concerned that some day, instead of better safe than sorry, some parents may be sorry they were too safe.

“I absolutely understand a parent’s concern today, “ says Ann Bryant, director of the National School Board Association , “but I hope that they don’t rob their children of tomorrow’s opportunity. Fear can just make us hunker in, but what we really need to do is show children that life does go on, that our democracy is alive and well in the centerpiece of this country, which is Washington, D. C.

But democracy is also alive and well in Madison, N. C., where parents recently voted overwhelmingly not to go.

“You could just see the devastation,” says Bullins.

“ I didn’t really smile a lot that day,” says Paul.

The class is now planning a visit to nearby Virginia Beach instead.

Obviously, it will take some time for big cities to earn back the trust of small towns and until that day comes, many parents say they will keep their kids right at home where the only clear theat to children remains themselves.

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