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Bellefonte students lose money as international trips canceled

BELLEFONTE — Students in the Bellefonte Area School District have lost the last three months of in-school instruction, the spring sports season, proms, awards ceremonies and countless other memories.

Now, students and their families may be losing money.

At a recent school board meeting, the subject of international travel was discussed by the board. There were a pair of international trips on the docket for 2020 — United Kingdom and Spain/France. Both have been canceled, of course, by the COVID-19 pandemic. The trips are run by an independent company — EF Tours. At the recent meeting, it was revealed that families will receive refunds for the canceled trips — minus $500.

Assistant superintendent Tammie Burnaford said that while EF Tours has trip insurance, it is standing firm on taking the $500 cancellation fee from students.

“(That) and the cancellation fee are keeping the company afloat while they attempt to weather this storm,” Burnaford said.

The cancellation fee didn’t sit well with board president Jon Guizar.

“I’m actually very disappointed in EF that they can make the gutsy statement that they’re going to stick to their $500 cancellation fee and take that $500 from students to keep themselves afloat,” Guizar said. “We’re all in the same boat. I’m just totally in disbelief that they’re going to use that strictly on a money basis to help themselves stay afloat when every other business is faced with the same thing and they’re all doing the right thing.”

EF Tours did present some options for students and their families. The first option is the aforementioned cash refund. EF Tours was originally going to have a $1,000 cancellation fee, but reduced it to $500.

The second option is to simply apply the monies to future travel. In essence, students can go on a re-scheduled trip in 2021. EF Tours is planning the same tours for next year and will not add any additional fees even if the costs increase. A third option is a future travel voucher, which works like a gift card. All monies paid would be credited to the student with any future travel with EF Tours on any of their products.

According to the EF Tours website, graduating seniors will not be allowed to participate in 2021 trips because they are no longer considered high school students. However, EF Tours does allow those up to age 19 to travel as students. Once they turn 20, they are considered an adult.

Marion-Walker Elementary principal Karen Krisch, who helps coordinate the international trips, said that at least one other tour company is also charging a cancellation fee.

“There’s at least one other company that’s doing whatever EF is doing. They’re withholding $500 or whatever their cancellation fee is,” Krisch said.

According to Krisch, there were originally 40 to 42 travelers just on the Spain/France trip. Approximately 20 of those students dropped out of the trip and opted for the partial refund.

“Twenty people dropping out … again, that’s $10,000 of our students’ money just so they can ‘stay afloat’ as they stated,” Guizar said. “It’s just hard to believe.”

Board member Rodney Musser said that the district should take a long, hard look at future trips.

“If this doesn’t throw a little bit of concern into trips from here on out, I don’t know what will,” Musser said. “This virus is not going to go away anytime soon.”

Calls and emails to EF Tours were not returned to The Express.

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