At Langley High School, both the orchestra and the art history classes planned to travel to Italy for spring break. The orchestra was scheduled to perform. The art history students went to learn.
One of the trips, the orchestra’s, was deemed an official school trip and was canceled last month by Fairfax County Public Schools.
Because the art history trip was considered a private trip, it went ahead as scheduled.
For one Langley family, the distinction between public and private trips meant that one sister went to Italy over spring break and the other did not. Their mother is Rolly Prager of McLean, co-chair of the Langley High School PTA.
This week, Prager said she questions the process by which the orchestra trip was canceled. Her $2,400 fee, paid in advance, has not been refunded.
Another orchestra parent, Janet Servis of Great Falls, said it doesn’t seem fair that one group was allowed to go to Italy, while the other was not.
So far, no money has been refunded to any of the orchestra students. Each paid about $2,400 for the trip.
Bill Kovacs of Great Falls, the parent of an orchestra member, said the total cost of the trip for 60 orchestra members and chaperons was between $140,000 and $160,000.
But because the schools, not the parents, contracted for the trip, “Your hands are tied,” said Servis, who stands to lose about $7,200. She paid for two of her children who play in the orchestra, and she paid for her own costs, because she was to go as a chaperon.
“[Fairfax County Public Schools says] ‘We are not going to protect you when we ban a trip. You’ve just lost your money,’” Servis said.
“They think, ‘Langley parents. Everyone is so wealthy.’
“We have a good income, but it hurts us. I don’t want people to think that oh, you’ve just lost a couple of thousand dollars, it’s not a big deal. Will it hurt? Yeah. Will I go broke? No.
“[But] what is fair about some groups being able to go?” said Servis. “There is a real inequity here.
“I am sure that what is going to end up happening is [FCPS will say] ‘OK, no more school-sponsored trips.’ But art history is still going to be able to go to Italy.”
OVER SPRING BREAK last week, another group of about nine Langley drama students traveled to London, one group went to Russia and a third traveled to Costa Rica, on trips considered private.
Kovacs said he tried to negotiate with the tour company for a refund. “I wrote a very nice letter [to the tour company]; as conciliatory as any human being can be,” he said.
“We were a school-authorized trip. The school was the one supporting the orchestra. The school signed the contract.
“[As parents] we had a contract with the school. We had to pay whether we went or not. The schools canceled the contract,” he said.
“The parties should sit down and figure out who spent what so we could get a handle on what had to be paid out, and what could be recouped.
“There would be some penalty, but people should get something back,” he said. “This trip was canceled because of something called ‘impossibility of performance.’
“[The tour company] had notice almost 20 days before the trip went. It was impossible for any of the kids to go,” said Kovacs. “The school is the one negotiating for the refund.”
But in response to his letter, the tour company has declined to negotiate with parents, Kovacs said. So he wrote a second, follow-up letter that was “much less conciliatory.”
“MY ISSUE IS the process that the county goes through to give preliminary approval to a trip less than two months before we go to war, with no advice to the parents that if we go to war, these trips would be canceled.”
The orchestra’s trip “was approved in January. It was not approved with the stipulation that if we go to war, all trips are canceled,” she said. “If they had, this never would have happened.
“The fact that it was preliminarily approved by risk management gave people a false sense of security.
“If you get a trip approved on Jan. 23, it was not that long ago. It isn’t like the war was a surprise.”
“At the end of the day, it is only money,” said Prager.
“I haven’t followed up, because I honestly don’t know what to do,” said Servis. “There is such an inequity. That is what is so frustrating.
“I don’t want the same thing to happen to other people.”
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE between a trip that is school-sponsored and one that is private?
“That is the $64,000 question,” said Robert Sanders, Langley’s assistant principal. He is negotiating for refunds for the parents of Langley’s orchestra members.
“Whether or not funds for the trip come from the school or the individual,” said Sanders, is part of the consideration.
“The school is working to acquire a refund for all the people who were traveling with the group. It is the school that is taking on that negotiation. The contract was with the school.
“As of today, it is still in negotiation,” Sanders said.
“They have not provided us with a detail of what we can expect to receive back as a refund, yet.”