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Murray Journal

Schools scramble to refund students for classes, sports participation, tours

Jun 15, 2020 01:52PM ● By Julie Slama

In 2018, Hillcrest High music students participated in a WorldStrides festival in San Diego; this past March, they had anticipated taking part in a festival in Washington, D.C., but travel plans were canceled when schools were put on “soft closure” during the COVID-19 pandemic and now the groups’ fees have been rolled over for another year. (Patty Smith/Hillcrest High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

As in-person schools were dismissed abruptly under Gov. Gary Herbert’s “soft closure” order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many school activities were canceled, from spring sports to academic tours. High school classes, which require fees such as woodworking and ceramics, now have classrooms of projects left in progress, uncertain when, if and how students will return to complete them.

In the midst of all this, school districts and school administrators are in the process of refunding students’ fees.

At Hillcrest High in Midvale, junior Abby Morrell had been looking forward to going to Washington, D.C. with the vocal ensemble, wind ensemble, and chamber orchestra for a festival.

Her mother, Barbara Morrell, was asked last minute to be one of the 90-student group’s chaperones and just paid her tour fees two days before she got an email on March 12, saying that the trip scheduled for March 26-30 was canceled and it was being looked into rescheduling or refunding. 

Twelve days later, Barbara emailed the school, inquiring about the $1,250 refund for both herself and her daughter. The next day, Principal Greg Leavitt emailed saying the school’s decision was to reschedule the trip next spring and so all the funds would roll over for that tour. No new tour dates were provided.

The 21 seniors, chaperones of senior students, or those who weren’t planning to commit to the classes were to be refunded unless the fee was paid for out of fundraising. The latter would be donated to the music department.

“The rest of us weren’t given the option of getting a full refund,” Barbara said. “I’d love to get the money back to pay something or be able to use it. Some people may want or need to free up those funds now.”

Hillcrest vocal ensemble and chamber orchestra director RaNae Dalgleish said that the decision was made by administration after talking to parties involved, including WorldStrides that was hosting the festival where the groups would perform, be evaluated and participate in clinics given by notable musicians and professors.

The tour also included vocal ensemble performing the national anthem at a flag-raising ceremony at Fort McHenry, giving a tribute at the Martin Luther King Memorial and singing at a local cathedral. The groups also would go sightseeing in the area. 

“It was unprecedented and ultimately, WorldStrides canceled the entire festival, which involved hundreds of tours or more,” Dalgleish said. “We had made the final tour payment days before. Our choices were to use the money on next spring’s tour at the same or a different location, but equivalent-priced tour, or get a refund and lose half the airfare, because the airline wasn’t given a full refund.”

Dalgleish said that right now, the school will absorb the cost of the seniors, and hope to be reimbursed as new members in the groups pay to go on tour next year.

She also said that while the tour is meant to celebrate and learn about music from other parts of the country, the absence of performing together also has had a powerful, bonding effect.

“The kids are all in and they’ve learned not to take this for granted. They even got together, six feet apart, to sing in the lawn of one of the students as they were missing singing and performing together. I think when we come back, we’ll be stronger and ready to start again,” Dalgleish said.

At Corner Canyon High in Draper, about 80 choir students were to participate in a festival in New York City. As of press deadline, negotiations were still being made with hotels to ensure students receive a full refund. The airlines reimbursed flights in vouchers and the two Broadway shows the group was to attend were reimbursed in full.

The group also planned on seeing Little Italy, Chinatown, 9/11 Memorial and the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Right now, we have $1,100 of the $1,250 or so back and we’re still negotiating the one-night deposit on the hotel,” Principal Darrell Jensen said. “We had a choice to roll over the funds, but we don’t know if we’ll travel next year or even what next year would be like, so we decided to make it a clean break.”

Students who paid for the trip through fundraisers will have their funds be earmarked to the music department, he said.

Jensen said that school officials are looking at all students’ accounts, including class fees, activity or participation fees, and fines, to determine the amount that may be refunded by early June.

Canyons District Chief Financial Officer and Business Administrator Leon Wilcox said that he wasn’t aware of any of the five or six trips approved for the remaining of the school year that were not in the process of reimbursement. 

He also said that Canyons School District does not take out travel insurance, but individuals or schools can do so.

In an April 28 memo, Canyons School District outlined refunds to students, including that trips and tours should be worked with parents and teachers to determine the best method. 

The memo continued to state $15 of activity fees to high school seniors should be returned while other students would have their fees reduced the next school year by the same amount. Participation fees for all sports would be refunded, but spirit packs that students already received would not. Dances and banquets that weren’t held should have money returned, while classes, would be up to the discretion of the teacher on materials used to determine any refunds. And if driver’s ed was completed online, money would not be refunded, but rather a time to schedule driving instruction would be determined when restrictions have been lifted.

At Brighton High, Principal Tom Sherwood said his performing arts groups planned to participate in the WorldStrides festival in Anaheim. Fortunately, the 150 students’ fees had been collected in the office, but not paid yet to the festival so he won’t have to be dealing with airlines, hotels and transportation to refund students’ money.

Sherwood said that refund process as well as the collection of student checked-out items, such as textbooks, calculators, uniforms, musical instruments and Chromebooks, will take place in late May.

Even Canyons School District’s community education classes were in the process of prorating refunds for students in various afterschool programs and community education courses for approximately 1,080 people, said Jose Rincon, head administrative assistant.

Cottonwood High’s 130 members in choir, band, orchestra and jazz band were expecting full $750 refunds from their canceled San Francisco tour, that included a WorldStrides festival as well as “Hamilton” tickets and Alcatraz tour tickets that they had just purchased weeks prior to the tour cancellation.

“San Francisco was an early hot spot for the coronavirus, so we were watching what was happening,” said band director Amber Tuckness. “If I canceled our trip, we wouldn’t receive refunds, but when Gov. Herbert made it official, then we could get the refunds.”

However, students who fundraised, including seniors, will not be receiving refunds and instead, the money will be given to the music department, she said.

Murray High Principal Scott Wihongi, who had just returned with the drill team in early March from New York City, said that the only trip that hadn’t happened at his school involved 15 students who were scheduled to go to San Francisco with the AP art history class in late April.

“We’re getting a full refund from the hotel and tours, but we’re working with the airline and travel agency to see if we can get refunds for the flight instead of vouchers,” he said. “This was an opportunity for the students to see different art styles at museums, as a way to enhance what they’re learning.”

He also was working with his staff in the process of refunding student-athletes’ fees, including the canceled tennis and baseball teams’ trip to St. George, and students’ partial class fees if materials weren’t used. School officials also were collecting textbooks, library books, some athletic uniforms, and seniors’ Chromebooks.

“I think the programs and students will be fine heading into next year,” he said. “Right now, we prioritized and streamlined our teaching to get in the standards. The students got through three-fourths of the meat of everything and it’s how much time students focus on learning that will determine how much we’ll need to reteach and reinforce that material when we return.”