CINCINNATI — Maya Sinden spent a year babysitting and baking pies to raise the $3,000 she needed to join the rest of the Walnut Hills Marching Band for performances and a cultural visit in Hawaii this spring.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the school to call the whole thing off.
“It wasn’t surprising, although it was really deeply disappointing for the kids, of course,” said Sinden’s mom and Cincinnati Public Schools employee Julia Indalecio. “Because they worked really hard to raise this money. This isn’t just money that lots of parents handed out.”
Sinden is now dealing with a second disappointment. Although they can't go on their trip, she and her 120 bandmates haven’t been able to get a refund from travel company Noteworthy Tours.
“I think that’s what’s most frustrating is knowing how much money it is, and there’s a company saying that, 'We’re going to take your money, we’re going to cancel everything and we’re not going to give any of it back,'” said Kristen Adams, who also has a child at Walnut Hills High School.
In a letter from the general counsel for Cincinnati Public Schools to Noteworthy Tours, the school claims the company originally said no money would be refunded because vendors like hotels and restaurants were not giving any money back. Families could only expect to recoup travel vouchers from the airlines.
However, CPS argues, those statements by Noteworthy Tours are “patently untrue” — CPS reached out directly to the hotel and learned it was offering full refunds for canceled trips.
Jeff Ment, an attorney representing Noteworthy Tours, said the company is working right now to get as much money back from the vendors as possible before issuing refunds to families.
“There was never any plan or effort or attempt to take the money away from these families," Ment said. “The opposite is true.”
Ment also said getting refunds from hotels and other attractions has been a slow process due to the pandemic. He said even with the work Noteworthy Tours is doing to get money back, it may not be possible to give families a full refund because not every vendor is willing to issue a refund to the travel agency.
Any and all money returned to Noteworthy Tours for the canceled trip will go back to Walnut Hills band families, he said.
That’s money that parents and students are banking on.
“There’s a lot at stake for a lot of these parents,” Adams said. “Not everybody has $3,000 to spend, or to lose, for that matter.”
On June 15, parents like Adams could get answers from the company about what’s going on with the trip refund. CPS is coordinating a meeting so that questions can be asked directly to representatives of Noteworthy Tours.