Barrie School students, staff quarantined on trip to China
Twenty-one youths, three teachers confined to hotel due to concerns about swine flu
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Students of a private school in Silver Spring spent their weeklong study trip in China quarantined in hotel rooms because of fears they were exposed to swine flu on the flight overseas.
Twenty-one students and three teachers from The Barrie School, a Montessori school in Silver Spring's Layhill area, were flying to China as part of the school's extended study week, during which students travel to various parts of the world and nation.
Unbeknownst to the group, a passenger on their flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong had a high fever and officials feared it was swine flu, said Barrie Head of School Michael Kennedy.
Kennedy said the passenger was immediately quarantined May 22 upon the flight's arrival, but the rest of the passengers were set free. The students traveled to Guizhou province in southwestern China, where they planned to visit rural areas, Kennedy said.
But on May 25, as the group was hiking to a Buddhist temple and visiting local rice paddies, Chinese officials contacted them and asked everyone to return to their hotel, said parent Alesia Peterson, whose 15-year-old daughter, Erica, is on the trip.
Chinese health officials took their temperatures at the hotel — everyone was OK, Peterson said — and told the group they must remain in their hotel rooms for the remainder of the week due to their exposure to the fevered passenger on the flight.
Although U.S. Consulate officials have since told the school no one on the flight had swine flu, the students remain confined to one- and two-person hotel rooms, Kennedy said.
There, Peterson said the students have access to computers, television, telephones and room service.
"They're doing everything they'd do on break anyways," she said.
Peterson said the students receive three meals a day by the hotel and can communicate through open doors and windows.
Both Peterson and Kennedy said Chinese officials have been gracious to the students, sending them flowers and fruit baskets — the contents of which have inevitably ended up as impromptu bowling balls down the hotel hallways, Peterson said.
School officials said the students are making the most of the quarantine.
"It's a frustrating situation, but it's one of those things you can't control," said Barrie School director of institutional advancement Beth Harbinson.
Kennedy said he is in constant contact with the teachers, the Chinese Embassy and the two U.S. Maryland senators in Washington, D.C., as well as the U.S. Consulate and Chinese officials in China to negotiate the release of the students "at the earliest possible minute."
He noted it could have been worse: International protocol also allows the country to quarantine those believed to be exposed to swine flu for two weeks in a hospital.
Right now, they are scheduled to be released Friday evening, giving the group one more day to tour China before their flight home Sunday, he said.
School officials said they were hesitant to let the students communicate with the press while in China because they didn't want to jeopardize their release or their flight home.
In the meantime, Peterson said she has no concerns for her child's safety or stability, either physically or mentally.
In fact, in an e-mail to her daughter, Peterson mentioned she'd be willing to take Erica on another international trip as compensation for her experience in China.
"She said she hasn't ruled out the possibility," Peterson said.