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Homeland Security Counters Threat From Kindergarteners

Free Times/Michael Gill | February 9 2006

WHILE ATTORNEY GENERAL Alberto Gonzalez assures the U.S. Senate that the Bush Administration’s domestic eavesdropping program is a vital “early warning system” for terrorists, another homeland security measure strikes at a local elementary school.

The kindergarten class at Lakewood’s Taft Elementary was planning a field trip to NASA Glenn Research Center. It’s a popular trip because it’s free, because the NASA staff already has age-appropriate tours that fit well with school curriculum, and, well, it’s outer space, for pete’s sake. They’ve got rocket ships.

And NASA works the education angle hard. According to the agency, “A major part of the NASA mission is ‘To inspire the next generation of explorers . . . as only NASA can.’” And of course they talk about math and science. NASA says about 400 school groups took tours last year.

But school principal Margaret Seibel says this year’s trip for Taft kindergarteners — we’re talking 6-year-olds here — had to be canceled due to homeland security concerns.

Since new security regulations went into effect in May 1, 2005, access to the Visitor Center is restricted to United State citizens. All others might be terrorists.

No tourists from France, no exchange students from Tokyo and, no foreign national kindergarteners on field trips.

“I was told they would not make any exceptions,” Seibel says.

Because two kids in the kindergarten class are not U.S. citizens, the teacher had to cancel the trip.

“It was just a policy that came down from the Homeland Security Department,” said Chief Community and Media Relations Officer Linda Dukes-Campbell. “We are a federal reservation, and we have to work within those ramifications.”

Dukes-Campbell says, though, that the agency is “looking at a policy revision” that might allow kindergarteners onto the federal reservation for field trips. She says they’re “hoping to have language” in order in a couple of weeks.

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