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CPS high school students missing overseas school trips due to coronavirus — and now worrying about refunds

For some school-related tours, travel insurance was mandatory. But some parents were told they still won’t get a cash refund.

Sherausha and Jordan Goss
Sherausha and Jordan Goss
Provided

Chicago high school students who spent a year fund-raising, working part-time jobs and hitting up friends and family for donations are now feeling deflated and angry after the worldwide coronavirus spread has forced the cancellation of long-planned overseas trips.

CPS on Thursday said on Twitter it would “make these students whole” but it was unclear whether that would mean a full cash refund for trips that cost families $4,000 or more.

CPS announced last week it was cancelling school-connected overseas trips over spring break due to COVID-19.

“It was an amazing sacrifice for a lot of households, including myself,” said Sherausha Goss, mother of Jordan Goss, a senior at Simeon Career Academy, who had raised $4,000 for a trip-of-a-lifetime to Greece. “It’s very disappointing.”

Jordan has two part-time jobs: as a barber and a guest attendant at Navy Pier. He and his single mom have been singularly focused on raising the money to get Jordan to Europe — a trip now doomed by COVID-19.

“What are the chances of these students being able to travel to Greece … and get the experience of being able to be out of the country?” his mom asked.

As of Thursday, the company Simeon and many other CPS schools contracted with, EF Educational Tours, based in Boston and Denver, was only offering vouchers to students with cancelled trips — not cash refunds. The company’s policies were changing daily, however, and parents are encouraged to keep checking the company’s website for updates.

The Chicago Teachers Union said 13 Simeon students had planned to go to Greece. Numerous CPS and suburban high schools offer such overseas adventures for their students, with teachers often agreeing to help chaperone.

EF Tours says the vouchers can be used until Sept. 30, 2022 for any of the company’s tours and can be used by students, their immediate family members or other students or faculty members in the same school district.

But some parents say that’s cold comfort for a situation beyond the students’ control.

“It’s pretty much useless for seniors,” said Amy Stickel, mother of Katherine Dattner, a senior at Jones College Prep who helped raise about $4,500 for a school trip to various World War II sites in Europe through EF Tours.

“She did a lot of babysitting. She had a lot of skin in the game,” Stickel said.

Katherine’s dad, Derek Dattner, said the trip fees included mandatory travel insurance offered by the tour company. But he was told that “a viral outbreak was not stated as one of the items that would be covered.”

Dattner added that he never cancelled his daughter’s trip with EF Tours; that was done for him by CPS. He wondered how his contract could be voided without his input — and why the insurance wouldn’t kick in.

“We’re just gobsmacked. We’re stunned,” he said.

Tim Decker, whose daughter Sara is a junior at Jones, understands why CPS called off his daughter’s school trip to Morocco, which was offered by Rustic Pathways, a tour company based in Ohio. “I think that was the prudent thing to do,” he says.

He’s upset, though, that Rustic Pathways has so far only offered him a voucher for 65% of the trip’s cost, which approached $4,000. He’d rather have his family’s money back. Rustic Pathways could not be reached for comment Thursday.

CPS said Thursday that “while we are still working out the details, we’re committed to making students whole and will reimburse students for out-of-pocket costs.”

Asked whether that means full cash refunds, a CPS spokeswoman emailed that further clarification would be “forthcoming.”