Whether students should be reimbursed in full for scheduled educational travel that’s been affected by the coronavirus pandemic has come into question again — this time involving a Washington, D.C., trip that some Colorado Springs middle school students signed up for.
In the fall of 2019, David Picard, the father of a Holmes Middle School student, enrolled his daughter in a summer of 2021 tour to learn about how government works in the nation’s capital.
World Classrooms, a South Dakota-based company, arranged the trip, which is not sponsored by the school or school district. But several local students had decided to participate, Picard said.
With airline tickets, hotels, food and sightseeing, the cost of the excursion is $3,000, he said. “It sounded like a really great deal, and we could do monthly payments.”
Picard said his daughter, then a 6th grader, was very excited to go.
Now, Picard said, as he’s making the final monthly payments toward the trip, he thinks traveling in June is still risky because of continued uncertainty about when COVID-19 vaccines might be available for the general public. So, he wants to cancel the reservation.
“The trip wouldn’t be the same as the one I originally paid for, likely with people still having to wear masks and social distance,” he said.
The company said it would retain 25% of the $3,000 if he cancels, or told Picard he could do an across-the-board swap, essentially selling the package to another student, in order to not lose any money.
Picard doesn’t think that’s fair, since many airlines and hotels have reimbursed travelers who cancel reservations due to COVID.
“Other travel has offered full refunds,” he said. “This is not the trip we signed up for, she’s not excited about it anymore with the way the world is right now, and I don’t feel comfortable sending her.”
In a similar situation, parents of high school students scheduled to go on a European music tour last summer filed a lawsuit against a Colorado-based travel agency, Voyageurs International LTD, and now are in settlement talks, said attorney Gary Tucker.
He represents about 200 families named in the lawsuit in seven states, including Colorado, where students from Colorado Springs and Monument were scheduled to go.
A total of 3,000 student musicians from around the nation paid a base fee of $6,345 each to participate in a summer of 2020 Ambassadors of Music tour, on which students were to have performed in four European cities.
Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, Voyageurs canceled the tour on March 17 and said the company was keeping $1,900 from every participant as a cancellation fee. That amounted to an estimated $5.7 million.
Students did jobs such as babysitting, yard work and selling baked goods to earn money to go on the trip, parents said, demanding a full refund.
A clause in the contract agreement state that arbitration would have to be done in Colorado, and Voyageurs pushed for individual instead of consolidate arbitration with claimants.
But a ruling from the Washington state Attorney General’s Office resulted in a judgement forcing Voyageurs to pay back the full amount to all 40 students who live in Washington, Tucker said. That led attorneys general in other states to argue for a settlement.
Now, “Voyageurs is in discussion to settle the whole thing,” Tucker said.
There are 25 students in Colorado involved in the lawsuit, he added.
“This is something that’s very important to the kids because they worked hard to earn the money,” Tucker said, “and it’s beneficial for them to make sure the (legal) system works.”
He cautions travelers to not sign contracts that have an arbitration provision.
“It’s a real consumer alert,” he said. “It’s a real trap.”