DYER, Ind. (CBS) — A middle school choir had been booked for a performance at the esteemed Carnegie Hall, but then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Now, parents are trying to get their money back, but the tour company says, “Not so fast.” And some parents are out thousands.READ MORE: Chicago Police Restrict Time Off For Officers Amid Battle Between City Hall, FOP Over COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar went looking for answers Thursday night.
It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. A group of eighth-grade students from Northwest Indiana were going to get the chance to perform at Carnegie Hall.
But the trip didn’t happen. And parents have only seen a fraction of the money.
The members of the middle school choir were thrilled when they sang their way into the prestigious Carnegie Hall in Midtown Manhattan.
“When I did find out, it felt like a dream, basically,” said Arianna Knoll, an eighth grader at Kahler Middle School in Dyer, Indiana who is part of the choir. “I didn’t feel like it was actually real.”
Arianna and her mom, Amy, were set to make the trip to New York in mid-March, along with about 20 other choir members. It was an opportunity to perform on one of the most celebrated stages.
“We started with making small deposits to Super Holiday Tours,” Amy Knoll said.READ MORE: Artist Nate Baranowski Uses Chalk Art To Bring Halloween Festivity To Howard Street In Rogers Park
They paid more than $3,000 in full to Super Holiday Tours – flights, hotel, and a few days of sightseeing. It cost the Knolls two years’ worth of tax returns.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her,” Amy Knoll said. “She was a little stronger than me.”
But the pandemic closed Broadway and all other theaters in New York, including, of course, Carnegie Hall – which now still stands proudly, but silently at Seventh Avenue and 57th Street. The dream choir trip was also silenced.
“In the end, we were all really disappointed and just really saddened by the news,” Arianna said.
Amy did receive a refund, but only for $904 and some change. There were some zeros missing.
“I was livid,” Amy Knoll said. “I called other parents.”
Super Holiday Tours explained in a letter to parents that they technically didn’t have to give any of the money back, but felt an “ethical responsibility” to return the money they could recover from vendors.
“They couldn’t give us a breakdown because it was proprietary they wouldn’t let us know who refunded us, where our money went, who gave money back – and they’re just being very secretive,” Amy Knoll said. “A lot of parents aren’t working, so this money could be very helpful to some of us that have been laid off due to the pandemic.”MORE NEWS: City Officials, Community Leaders Hit Streets To Urge People To Get First COVID-19 Shots, Boosters, And Flu Shots
The president of the tour company did respond, saying they work with roughly 20 vendors per trip, but have secured additional refunds from those vendors – and promise to return as much money as they are able to get back from vendors. This is Super Holiday Tours President Bryan Cole’s full statement:
“We understand the frustration our clients are feeling during this confusing and stressful time, and we are working diligently to resolve travel postponements and cancellations as quickly as possible.
“As the single point-of-contact for our clients, we work each day to streamline a complex process. Working one-on-one with teachers, administrators and tour leaders, together we plan many educational activities for our student travelers—all of which are booked through different vendors.
“Just as securing reservations and other bookings takes time, it will also take time for us to individually request refunds from each vendor on any given trip. Each vendor has different terms and conditions that vary depending on the contract, and we work with as many as 20 or more vendors per trip.
“In the case of Kahler Middle School, we have begun issuing rolling refunds as our team members have successfully secured refunds or commitments of refunds from vendors. It’s important to us that we get as much of this money back in the hands of our clients as it is available, especially given the current economic impact of COVID-19.
“Our team continues to advocate on behalf of impacted students at Kahler Middle School, and will provide updates on any additional refunds we are able to secure. We remain in close contact with the school principal and choir director during this process.
“Airfare is often the largest expense of a student trip, as is the case here. We are in the process of negotiating refunds with the airline and hope to provide good news to our clients soon.
On a personal note, I apologize if our letter to affected students and parents didn’t make clear that we continue to advocate on their behalf and will issue additional refunds as we secure them.”