School districts cancel trips over coronavirus concerns, prompting questions from parents

Photo courtesy: MGN
Photo courtesy: MGN(WLUC)
Published: Mar. 3, 2020 at 7:28 PM AKST
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The Anchorage School District announced

that it would be canceling 32 school-sponsored trips because of concerns related to coronavirus.

The move impacted around 800 students, and now some parents want answers about whether or not they'll be refunded for payments made towards the trips.

ASD Chief Operating Officer Tom Roth says that decision will ultimately fall to the companies that were responsible for arranging these trips.

"A lot of this rests on conversations with the travel companies that the schools scheduled these events with and there are several that have been engaged," Roth said. "That's the discussion, those discussions need to happen now."

Principals at several of the ASD schools impacted by the cancellations offered no comment regarding the situation. West High School Principal Sven Gustafson told KTUU that he was working to sort out six different cancellations with six different travel companies.

Parents with students at Romig Middle School also provided KTUU with an email from Principal Carrie Sumner regarding the cancellation of a trip to Russia. According to the email, families would be able to recover fees that were paid directly to the school, amounting to $487.75 per traveler, after covering additional fees with a company called Firebird Tours.

It's unclear how much each passenger paid before the cancellation was announced. The principal also wrote that Romig Middle School was requesting information from Firebird Tours on airfare, ground, hotel and tour cancellations to be provided for insurance purposes.

Other families, however, are out not only the experience of a lifetime but also much more money: The Lewis family, out of Eagle River, spent more than $8,000 to reserve spots for 7th-grader Terriana and her mom to go to Peru, a trip for which they were supposed to take off Monday afternoon.

"I wanted to go and use Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country," Terriana said, "see what's happening, because I've never gone out of the United States."

The pair would've been traveling with ASD staff and other students and parents as part of the middle-schooler's Spanish immersion program.

"Since there were no [country-sanctioned] travel restrictions," Terriana's mom Liesl Lewis said, "we get nothing.We don't get any money back, we don't get an option to reschedule.

"It's not like we were going to China," she added, "or some of the European countries - like Italy, I would've understood."

Liesl said Tuesday that after ASD's announcement about international trips Friday, parents and students were informed at a Monday night meeting that they could potentially still go on the trip - because if they didn't, they likely wouldn't get anything back from the travel company involved - but all of the families decided it was too much of a rush to reverse course yet again.

ASD officials say they empathize with the disappointment of the students, families, and staff whose trips were canceled, in a statement to KTUU Wednesday.

"We acknowledge that this is a difficult period for the travel industry as a whole, but we believe a fair and acceptable outcome can be reached," said ASD Director of Communications, Alan Brown. "We trust that travel vendors will recognize the goodwill and continued support they can generate within our entire community by offering a reasonable solution to those affected by virus-related travel cancellations."

The MatSu Borough School District also announced the cancellation of school sponsored trips this week, alongside the

of a page on the MSBSD website, containing information about COVID-19 as it pertains to their schools.

Superintendent Monica Goyette also offered this prepared statement:

"Safety of our students and employees is a priority in the Mat-Su and with the information we had from state and local public health agencies, we felt it was best to suspend travel as this potential threat continues to unfold."

The Kenai Peninsula School District's Director of Communications, Pegge Erkeneff also confirmed that KSD has cancelled five student trips and some staff travel that was scheduled to take place between now and the end of April.

KTUU has also reached out to EF Educational Tours, another one of the groups that ASD utilized for arranging student trips, but no response had been received at the time this article was published. The group's

contains information pertaining to travel during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Channel 2's Kristen Durand contributed to this report.
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