Nichols Middle School.

If you’re of a certain age, or if you love TV trivia, you may recall a quiz show called “The $64,000 Question.”

Well, at Evanston/Skokie School District 65, it’s now “The $54,000 Question.”

That’s how much some eighth grade parents at Nichols Middle School are out, due to cancellation of an out-of-town Civil Rights history field trip to Georgia and Alabama.

36 familes x $1,500 per child=$54,000.

But at Monday afternoon’s meeting of the school board’s Finance Committee, superintendent Devon Horton assured those parents, who had not purchased trip cancellation insurance, “we’ll work to make sure you won’t lose any of your money” if the trip cannot be re-set for another time.

The whole saga sounded like something from the intersection of COVID and confusion.

Based on explanations from administrators, the trip was initially approved in 2019 for February 2020, but was delayed to some uncertain future date due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But for reasons still to be determined, the Nichols trip continued at least as a possibility, even as all District 65 field trips were supposed to be cancelled for the current school year.

By the time anyone figured out the discrepancy, the Nichols trip was off due to omincron, but it was too late for parents without trip insurance to get their money back.

Horton conceded that “there were definitely some missteps on the district’s side and the school’s side.”

Still, 42 other Nichols families, officials said, did pay for the trip insurance and will get refunds that way.

Raphael Obafemi, the district’s chief financial officer, pointed out that a waiver signed by parents clearly stated that without that insurance, there would be no refunds if the family did not cancel their child’s trip by a certain date.

And in fact, the website for the tour agency, Brightspark, states: “What is the Refund Policy? … No refunds are given to individuals who cancel within 45 days of departure” unless those individuals have trip cancellation insurance.

Still, with all the confusion over timing, and over scheduling or not scheduling the trip, board members and administrators did not want to stick uninsured parents with the cost of an educational adventure their children may never take.

There is still a chance the trip might occur in late May or early June, but that would be up to Nichols school parents, teachers, and administrators … and only, officials said, if COVID-19 has diminished in the South.

If the trip is indeed called off for good, District 65 will try to get refunds from the tour operator, perhaps trying leverage like “You want our business in the future, don’t you?”

But failing that, District 65 will pay the parents back itself.

Finance panel chair Joey Hailpern said “we aren’t going to have families out the money. We’ll find a way to make it right on our end.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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1 Comment

  1. The field trip, that was recently canceled by the Nichols School principal, to take 8th grade students to Atlanta and Birmingham Al was a terrific idea as it focused on the civil rights movement during Martin Luther King’s life. Going to the museums and the real places of the beginning of racial justice could be eye-opening and have a lasting impact on all the students. I think it should be rescheduled and that funds should be raised so that all the 8th grade students who want to go could participate without financial restraints.

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