Glen Ames robotics team pushes for an exception to US travel ban

The 2017/2018 Glen Ames robotics team, The Walking Lead. Back row: Arion Harinarain, Preston Grinnell, Duncan Pratt, Colin King, Megan Farrow, Tea Reed Watson, Will Henderson; middle row: Grace Jonker, Parker Staite; in front: Elsa Bienenstock. PHOTO: Josh Sherman

Glen Ames Senior Public School robotics team the Walking Lead has earned the right to compete in an important international event through problem solving.

All by themselves, the Grade 7 and 8 team, dubbed the Walking Lead, came up with a solution to unsafe lead levels in school water through a unique flushing system they call the Royal Flush.

The invention earned them the second overall champions award at the First Lego League eastern provincials, only the second time a Toronto District School Board Team has achieved the title. With that performance, they have qualified for international competition in California, Detroit or Arkansas.

But now they face a problem that they can’t solve on their own.

The Toronto District School Board’s US travel ban—which was a response to the Trump Administration’s travel ban applied to people born in six Muslim-majority countries—means that unless an exception is made, the middle school team will remain grounded here in Canada.

Glen Ames coach Luke Martin described the experience as “deflating” for the students, but he noted, “They’re really focused… they’re just focused on doing their best. And obviously they want to go as far as they can.”

While the TDSB travel ban was already in place last year when the team qualified for the 2017 tournament, because Glen Ames had already made travel plans the team qualified for an exemption and was permitted to cross the border.

Ward 16 TDSB Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher is calling for the board to allow the Glen Ames robotics team to participate in the international competition.

She said she supports the ban in general, noting there are about 750 TDSB students who are not allowed to travel into the US, but suggested in this case an exemption is appropriate. “When there are no kids who would be caught in the net, it’s hard to say no,” Cary-Meagher. “I like things to be clean cut, but life isn’t clean cut.”

Ryan Bird, a spokesperson for the TDSB said trustees discussed the travel ban at the Governance and Policy Meeting earlier this month.

“They passed a motion that would see some of the restrictions eased. No final decision has been made however,” he added in an email. Trustees will decide the next steps at a board meeting on Feb. 7.

Meanwhile, the team has started an online petition hoping to gain support for their cause.

Even if the Walking Lead are not able to cross the border, the season is not quite over for the team. On Feb. 25, there’s the Ontario Innovation Celebration.

There’s just one more catch for the Walking Lead. The top two teams at the Ontario Innovation Celebration qualify to travel to the global tournament—in Washington, D.C.

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