There has been much sadness among Mentor's eighth grade students over the past couple of days after a field trip to Washington, D.C., was canceled following a dispute with a tour agency.
The agency, Discovery Tours, took a lot of money from the families. About $232 thousand dollars.
On Wednesday, we showed up at Discovery Tours in Mayfield Village and talked to Senior VP Joe Cipolleti.
He wanted to give us a prepared press release regarding the problems with the trip. But I told him, "I have a press release. We need to do more than that. What's going on here?”
The company had cancelled a planned trip to Washington with 511 eight graders and 45 chaperones from the Mentor School District."
Cipolleti says it paid the Hyatt Dulles, where they were planning to stay, in full, but the hotel requested more money after a misunderstanding over dates.
"We provided a credit card and they refused to accept it,’ he told us.
I asked for confirmation that he paid, which he said he would go inside his office to get.
But when he came back five minutes later, he said he wasn’t going to comment.
We're told parents paid $455 dollars each by last February, but Discovery only broke the news the afternoon before the planned trip, saying the hotel was keeping more than $34 thousand dollars to recoup money they had laid out for the upcoming trip.
"It was disheartening. It was shocking and certainly we were angry right away," said Mentor Schools Superintendent Bill Porter.
Especially after they heard a very different story from the hotel. Hyatt sent a statement which read in part that Discovery hadn't provided sufficient payment owed, despite numerous options provided.
"I was heartbroken for the kids. My son in particular," said Michelle Cecconi.
Her 13 year old son Connor was going on the trip. Something the family had saved up for.
"It was hard to make adjustments on our living situation. Scrimping on some things to make sure he got this experience," she told us.
The school says it's looking for another way to celebrate graduation. In the meantime, several other districts who booked with Discovery may be out of luck as well.
Wednesday afternoon we found out that the North Royalton Middle school, which also had an upcoming trip with Discovery, visited their offices today and found everything had been cleaned out. They tell us they worked directly with the Hyatt to secure their rooms, even though the hotel hadn't been paid. And the school is still hoping to still get the kids to Washington.
In the meantime, The Attorney General has encouraged all parents to file a complaint with Discovery Tours.
While Discovery Tours and the Hyatt Regency Dulles Hotel have both blamed each other for the fiasco, one local team has decided to pitch in rather than point fingers, #WhateverItTakes.
The school district announced Wednesday afternoon that the Cavaliers have invited every eighth grade student (even those who did not plan to attend the trip) to Thursday night's Quicken Loans Arena Watch Party for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Raptors. Students and chaperones will all receive free transportation, t-shirts, rally towels, entertainment, and a $15 food voucher.
School officials say they are "so grateful" to the Cavs for the opportunity, and "are still working to arrange additional events that will be memorable for our 8th grade students." Buses will leave Mentor High School for The Q at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, with the game tipping off at 6 p.m. from the Air Canada Center.