White House tour cuts disappoint students
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Saturday, March 09, 2013
3/09/13 at 7:19 AM
For a quarter of a century, Andy Foyil has organized spring break field trips to Washington, D.C., for his students at Eliot Elementary School.
But on his fifth-grade class' upcoming trip - and Foyil's last before his retirement - there will be no sightseeing inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Earlier this week, the White House announced that it would be halting all tours until further notice because of sequestration-related spending cuts. The 53 people scheduled for the Eliot field trip are among hundreds of northeastern Oklahomans who have received cancellation notices from congressional offices that arrange the tours.
"I've been there. I've seen what the Secret Service does. They're not saving any money, so to me, that doesn't make any sense," Foyil said.
A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said his office has had to cancel tours for 128 people just through March 21, while a spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Bridenstine said his office had 55 people lined up for White House tours.
"You multiply that by the six other members of the delegation, and you see there are a lot of people from Oklahoma that are not getting to tour the White House," said Jake Heisten, press secretary for Inhofe, R-Okla.
"These are families and school groups that are coming up for spring break, which is definitely is one of the busiest times of the year. It really ramps up from there to the summer season."
In defending the cuts, the Secret Service has said publicly that 37 officers are typically assigned to White House tour duty, at an estimated total cost of $74,000 each 40-hour week.
Those officers are being reassigned to other duties to help reduce overtime costs.
Sheryl Kaufman, director of communications for Bridenstine, R-Okla., called the suspension of White House tours "a disappointment for a lot of our constituents."
Despite his own incredulity over the cancellations, Foyil has tried to turn his students' disappointment into a learning opportunity.
"We were all excited, so I've tried to use it as a lesson for them," he said. "I have talked to the kids about how what happens in Washington, D.C., affects your life. I told them, 'I want you to remember when I was 11 years old, I didn't get to go to the White House because Congress couldn't agree on how to save money.' "
His young charges clearly grasp what they will miss out on.
Trey Hubner said his first trip to Washington won't be the same.
"We're going to the Capitol and a bunch of other monuments, but I was really looking forward to it - probably because the president lives there," Trey said. "Right now, he's living there, and it would just be cool to see all of the rooms that he's been in."
His classmate, Rachel Gurley, said she is disappointed she won't have the experience since her brother, who is two years her senior, got to visit the White House when he was in fifth grade at Eliot.
"But Mr. Foyil taught us that you kind of have to be flexible. Even though you don't get to do something you would like to, you can find other things that you will like," she said.
As such, Rachel said she is now looking forward to her second most anticipated stop on her first-ever trip to the D.C. area.
"I'm pretty excited about going to Mount Vernon. Martha and George Washington lived there in the winters," she said.
Original Print Headline: Change in plans
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Andy Foyil teaches a lesson on the U.S. Constitution as Eliot Elementary School students Kaylee Thompson (center), Annabel Hubner and Rachel Gurley (right) listen from their desks in Tulsa on Friday. Foyil is organizing a school trip to Washington, D.C., but the students will miss the White House tour because of sequestration cuts. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Photos from past Eliot Elementary School class trips to Washington, D.C., include a visit with Gerald Ford. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Jack Maricle (left) and Scout Huggins (right) raise their hands during a lesson at Eliot Elementary School in Tulsa on Friday. An Eliot teacher is organizing a school trip to Washington D.C., but a tour of the White House is no longer on the schedule. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Andy Foyil talks about the U.S. Constitution to his fifth-grade students at Eliot Elementary School on Friday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World