It took 11 hours, but the group of students from Central Middle School in Port Huron, Michigan, finally made it to Washington, D.C.
Their goal? Touring the U.S. Capitol building and seeing attractions such as the Rotunda and National Statuary Hall.
“It’s really big for me to be here,” said one student as she teared up.
When they arrived, something was missing that the students had not expected: throngs of people. While some tour groups returned to the U.S. Capitol this week, many restrictions remained after a shutdown of the campus during the pandemic in March 2020, including staffing shortages. Officials hope to hire more police officers by fall.
In the meantime, staff members are allowed to lead tours, but with restrictions. They can conduct tours for only for six hours a day during midday hours only, and with groups no larger than 50 people.
As it turns out, Central Middle School’s group was too large.
In a report to the Senate earlier this year, the Karen Gibson, the Senate sergeant at arms, said a full re-opening of the U.S. Capitol visitors center won’t be complete until 2023.
Despite assumptions that COVID is the reason for the tour restrictions, Gibson says that’s not the only factor.
“The limiting factor right now is not COVID-related, but an insufficient number of uniformed police officers to man the many positions associated with the Capitol visitors center,” she said.
Capitol police tell CBS News they are trying to tackle those shortages by aiming to hire and deploy 280 more officers by September.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CBS News’ Scott MacFarlane she hopes things change in the future.
“We want all our kids, people, to come,” she said. “This is the people’s house.”
Meanwhile, tour restrictions remain in place during peak sightseeing season in the nation’s capital.