The lack of federal approvals has caused the postponement of a spring concert tour of Cuba by the 180-member Greenwich High School Band.
School officials said Friday that instead of touring and performing around the musically rich island, the students will travel to Williamsburg, VA where they will participate in a national band competition. The 3 1/2-day bus trip will begin April 11, school officials said.
The U.S. Treasury Department must approve the trip to the Communist island 90 miles south of Florida.
"You can’t purchase any airline seats or tickets without their approval," said Jeffrey Spector, the district's music and arts chair. "With less than 50 days before the trip, we decided to postpone the trip until next year. Instead, we will take an adjudication trip to Williamsburg, VA."
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Both he and GHS Band Director John Yoon, who planned the trip, said that even if the Treasury Department granted permission in coming weeks, it would be nearly impossible to purchase 180 airline tickets so close to the departure date.
'I contacted back in the fall, other school districts and colleges and groups that had gone. Quite a few said don’t be surprised if you don’t get approvals in a timely fashion…it had been a problem for them," Spector said.
"We made this decision (to postpone the Cuba trip) this week," Yoon said Friday. "This is Plan B," he said of the trip to the Worldstrides Heritage Festival. Students and parents were notified of the decision on Thursday.
Yoon added, "The kids are very, very disappointed … Most disappointed are the seniors. They’ll be off to college when we make the trip next year. They understand and appreciate I tried to make this happen."
He added, "People talk about government bureaucracy—we don’t have an idea about bureaucracy. This is perfect example of government bureaucracy affecting the kids." Yoon said, "I was talking to one of my students about it. It was almost an educational moment…not that I wanted this kind of educational opportunity."
Yoon said he decided against waiting for the federal approval and hiring a charter flight to travel to Cuba. "It would cost $100,000 (for a charter). We are already asking parents to pay enough as it is," Yoon said. The trip was to cost each student about $1,800, which can be refunded to students after the Williamsburg trip or held until next year when the trip will take place, Yoon said.
At the Worldstrides festival, the award-winning Greenwich band will compete against a dozen other schools from around the country, Yoon said. "They have collegiate level professionals evaluate the students. This is an important part of the curriculum and student development as musicians."
"Our band works very hard and usually performs quite well at these adjudications," said GHS Headmaster Chris Winters. "It's a real example of the highly trained and skilled bands that Mr. Yoon puts together every year."
While in Virginia, the students also will visit Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, Spector said.