MADEIRA, Ohio -- With their bags packed, money paid and giddiness mounting, more than 500 eighth-grade students in Mentor, Ohio, got a heartbreaking surprise Tuesday evening: Their field trip to Washington, D.C., had been canceled the night before it was scheduled to begin.
Discovery Tours, the company to which parents had paid a cumulative $232,505, called off the trip at the last minute and claimed it had been unable to confirm final hotel reservations. The hotel, when district officials reached out, said Discovery Tours had been "unable to meet the contractual obligations." Refunds have not materialized.
The incident amounted to tears and frustration for the district's eighth-graders and their parents; for Madeira Middle School principal Tom Olsen, it represented a crisis.
His own eighth-graders were scheduled to go on a trip to the same place with the same company May 21. When he reached out to Discovery Tours to talk about the trip, no one answered.
And so, on Thursday night, he announced that the Madeira trip would be canceled, too.
"I'm sure you are feeling angry as you read this," he wrote in a letter to parents. "As are all of us in regards to a much-anticipated trip that has been taken away from our 8th graders."
Students at schools from Cincinnati to Cleveland had their long-planned tours canceled.
Taylor Junior High in Cleves has not yet canceled their June trip, but Superintendent Craig Hockenberry said they are watching the situation "very carefully."
Students have spent two years planning and saving money for the end of 8th grade excursion.
Olsen said his district had organized trips with the company for years and never encountered an issue, but the new uncertainty surrounding Discovery Tours meant he and other organizers "no longer have confidence in their ability to transport or provide an appropriate experience for our 8th graders."
Like other school administrators affected by the company's mysterious muteness, he said he planned to do "everything legally possible as a district to address the financial implications of this situation."
Madeira Superintendent Kenji Matsudo said the district is trying to find if they can schedule an alternate trip for the students, many of whom spent hours babysitting and mowing lawns to raise the money.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is currently also running for governor, said Friday that Discovery Tours has generated more than 170 complaints since Wednesday.
"Like many schools and families, we are very concerned about what’s happening with Discovery Tours and we want answers," DeWine said in a written statement. "As we gather information, I want Ohioans to know that this is a priority for my office, and we will do everything we can to assist. We want to hear from Ohioans who have used this company."