UPDATE March 12 @ 2 p.m.: Chicago Public Schools has agreed to reimburse students for money lost to the travel company. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
AUBURN GRESHAM — What was supposed to be a dream trip for a group of students from Simeon Career Academy has turned into nightmare.
Thirteen students from the South Side school, 8147 S. Vincennes Ave., were scheduled to go to Greece in April for Spring Break, but Chicago Public Schools administrators were forced to cancel it due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The students booked the trip via EF Tours, a CPS-approved company that organizes group trips for high school and college students across the country.
While other companies within the travel industry are making allowances for customers impacted by the outbreak, EF Tours has refused to return the $4,000 the students paid for their dream trip, according to the Chicago Teachers Union.
CTU spokesperson Chris Geovanis said someone from Simeon contacted the union seeking their help, since losing $4,000 is a huge blow to families in the predominantly low-income community.
“How’s this for callousness? We got a call from Simeon today. 13 students planned to go to Greece for Spring Break. They all paid $4,000 to @EFtours, a CPS-approved tour company. CPS is wisely grounding the trip due to #coronavirus. BUT THE COMPANY WILL NOT REFUND THE MONEY.”
Calls to the company’s Cambridge, Mass., corporate offices went unreturned. Block Club was able to talk to a customer service representative, Macy D., via the website’s virtual chat.
She confirmed that refunds are not part of the company policy and that students would receive a Future Travel Voucher for the amount paid, minus any non-refundables.
That’s not good enough, Geovanis said.
“The bottom line is that these students need to be made whole rather than saddled with this financial hardship,” she said. “We urge CPS executives to work with students and staff to ensure that these children and families don’t bear the financial burden of this trip cancellation.”
On Twitter, the CTU said the company had taken a “hard line” against refunds, which might not be harmful for some families — but would be devastating to “Black children at a school that is more than 90 percent low income.”
The company has issued a COVID-19 alert on its website, informing parents and students that they are “closely monitoring the outbreak,” writing that they are following the guidance of the U.S. Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Staff at Simeon could not be reached for comment.
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