ST. MARYS — As Hurricane Sandy smashed into the East Coast on Monday, the massive storm also forced the cancellation of St. Marys Middle School’s eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C.
St. Marys Superintendent Shawn Brown said initially plans were to delay the trip 24 hours and then reassess the situation. However, as Sandy continued to pound the eastern seaboard, Brown said it became more clear the trip was in jeopardy.
“We had a meeting last night that was originally scheduled to talk about the delay, go over their new itinerary and possibly talk about delaying it another 24 hours,” Brown said in a telephone interview this morning. “In the mean time, Mary Miller got a call from K&K (Tours) and the bus company told them they were not traveling, which makes good sense. So at that point, they couldn’t deliver their services.”
The Wapakoneta school trip for eighth-graders is Nov. 16 through Nov. 20 and is through Educational Tours. Wapakoneta High School science teacher Jason Johnson is the adviser.
Wapakoneta City Schools Superintendent Keith Horner said the Wapakoneta school district has approximately 20 days left before they have to leave.
“We have a little bit of time before they leave so that is good news,” Horner said. “We will monitor the situation closely and we will be in contact with the travel agency to make sure things are still on. At present, they have not contacted us so we have to assume things are still a go. If anything happens, we will contact the parents of the students going on the trip.”
During Monday’s meeting in St. Marys between administrators and parents, Brown said parents and students first learned of the trips cancellation because of weather concerns related to Hurricane Sandy. Once word of the cancellation came down, the attention turned toward possible refunds. The trip cost each student $588.
“I know that Mary and K&K are now working with the bus company, restaurants and hotels to see if they can recoup some of that money,” Brown said.
“Nothing is ever easy. There are a lot of channels you have to deal with and I imagine it could take a month, maybe two or three months before it gets settled. I hope K&K can provide some of the money back to the citizens here in St. Marys. There may be even the potential for rescheduling. I don’t know how realistic that is, but that’s another goal we are shooting for.”
Brown also has been in contact with the district’s attorney.
“I sent both the teacher contract and the contract each parent signed to our attorney because at that time, I was under the impression there would be no refunds,” Brown said. “So I thought I would share it with them and they could shed some light. My whole goal is to do right by the people of St. Marys.”
Brown admitted breaking the news to the students was the most difficult part of the process.
“We had conversations with them yesterday morning to tell them we were on hold,” Brown said. “They are 14 years old so they were disappointed, but they also are savvy enough to see what’s happening on the news. I think a lot of them surmised it wasn’t going to happen.”
Kathy Macwhinney, of K&K Tours, said employees received word from a bus company on Monday informing them of the cancellation.
“We received notice yesterday (Monday) from one of the bus companies who talked to emergency people in Washington, D.C. and he said he would not bring those buses in,” Macwhinney said in a telephone interview this morning. “We talked to a supplier who is a member of the American Buss Association and they sent out notice that they didn’t want any buses coming into an emergency situation.”
Macwhinney also noted one of the bus companies told her the company’s insurance agent said any bus that was brought into an area under a state of emergency would not be covered under a policy. The unknown weather conditions from the storm also played a factor in the decision.
“Just the fact we didn’t know what would be happening in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and D.C. itself, it just came to a point where we had to make a decision for the safety of the kids,” Macwhinney said.
Once the decision to cancel the trip was made, employees spent much of the day Monday calling suppliers to cancel reservations.
“We had six people in the office trying to notify them all of the cancellations so that we could possibly get anything above what they already incurred back,” Macwhinney said, noting by the time a student boards the bus, his or her fees have already been paid in full. “Yesterday it was about getting them the notification and trying to talk to them personally. Today, we have to go back and find out how much each has been paid. We have had very positive responses from the majority of them, especially the food places.”
The process could take several months.
“Some of that has to go before corporate managers, who are not local, so that’s part of it,” Macwhinney said. “We just don’t know how some of this will play out.”
While disappointing, Macwhinney said safety was the top concern for the cancellation.
“I will tell you that with what happened, I feel much better knowing they are safe at home,” she said.