If you’re of a certain age or like quiz shows, you might remember a game show called “The $64,000 Question”.
Well, at Evanston/Skokie School District 65, it’s now “The $54,000 Question.”
That’s how absent some eighth-grade parents at Nichols Middle School are, due to the cancellation of an out-of-town civil rights history field trip to Georgia and Alabama.
36 families x $1,500 per child = $54,000.
But at Monday afternoon’s meeting of the school board’s finance committee, Superintendent Devon Horton assured parents, who had not purchased trip cancellation insurance, “we will work to make sure you don’t won’t lose any of your money” if the trip cannot be reset for another time.
The whole saga felt like something at the intersection of COVID and confusion.
Based on the administrators’ explanations, the trip was originally approved in 2019 for February 2020, but was postponed to an uncertain future date due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But for reasons yet to be determined, Nichols’ journey continued at least as a possibility, even though all District 65 field trips were to be canceled for the current school year.
By the time someone caught on to the discrepancy, Nichols’ trip was canceled due to omincron, but it was too late for parents without travel insurance to get their money back.
Horton conceded that “there were certainly missteps on the district side and on the school side.”
Yet another 42 Nichols families, officials said, have paid for travel insurance and will get reimbursements that way.
Raphael Obafemi, the district’s chief financial officer, pointed out that a waiver signed by the parents made it clear that without this insurance, there would be no refunds if the family did not cancel their child’s trip by a certain date.
And in fact, the travel agency’s website, Brightspark, says, “What is the refund policy? …No refunds are given to people who cancel within 45 days of departure,” unless those people have trip cancellation insurance.
Yet with all the confusion over timing and whether or not to plan the trip, board members and trustees didn’t want to burden uninsured parents with the cost of an educational adventure their children might never take.
There’s still a chance the trip could take place in late May or early June, but that would be up to parents, teachers and administrators at Nichols School … and only, officials said, if COVID-19 has abated in the South.
If the trip is indeed canceled for good, District 65 will try to get refunds from the tour operator, perhaps trying leverage like “You want our business in the future, right? “
But failing that, District 65 will reimburse the parents itself.
Finance committee chairman Joey Hailpern said: ‘We’re not going to let families take money out. We’ll find a way to work things out on our end.