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Controversy ensues as WorldStrides refuses to grant full refunds

2021 Grad Night is on for the Bruin senior class. Courtesy photo

Every year for a series of nights in May and June, Disneyland Parks opens their gates to thousands of seniors to celebrate the end of a chapter in their lives at the Disneyland Resort Grad Nite. However, with the severity of COVID-19, this year’s seniors were stripped of the opportunity as Disney cancelled the event for safety reasons.

“It was the right choice, but of course I’m disappointed because it’s something I’ve been looking forward to all year — spending an entire day with my best friends at one of my favorite places in the world,” said Senior Sonora Slater.

Regarding school trips, Bear River students usually travel through WorldStrides, the largest accredited nationwide travel agency that helps hundreds of thousands of students every year. Despite how students’ deposits were not refundable, WorldStrides reassured that they have been able to refund most of the students’ deposits “minus a small unrecoverable amount of $30 per person,” a “small” amount that some students would like back.

WorldStrides in their Frequently Asked Questions after the outbreak of COVID-19 explained what these non-recoverable costs are.

“Your experience with WorldStrides begins well before you depart for the travel program we planned for you,” they said. “Many of you have likely interacted with our experienced and dedicated full-time staff …  As an organization that is accredited just like your school, we have a high bar for our educational content, and we have a dedicated team that develops educational activities and materials, hires and trains our incredible Tour Directors and Course Leaders, and creates printed curriculum materials like Discovery Journals.

With businesses closing due to the virus, the unemployment rates in America skyrocketed, nearly reflecting the unemployment rates seen during the Great Depression. This money devoted to the payment of their workers is a sure and fair reason behind the lack of full refunds. However, Senior Morgan Ham expressed her different opinion.

“As a nationwide company, they should have the reserves to pay their employees for these next few months,” she said. “As a high school senior, I worked multiple different jobs to be able to pay for all of my senior trips and other expenses out of my pocket, and to be told that we’re not going to get a full refund even though we didn’t cancel the trip [isn’t fair]. I understand that to others it may not be a big deal to not receive $30 back, but I’m going to college — it’s expensive.”

Considering payment for workers and other costs made to other organizations that weren’t redeemable is a viable reason for the nonrefundable costs no matter the anger felt by the students. However, according to the WorldStrides’ legal policy for California residents, students that were expected to travel through the agency should expect a full refund.

“Upon cancellation of the transportation or travel services, where you, the customer, are not at fault and have not canceled in violation of the terms and conditions, if any, of the contract for transportation or travel services, all sums paid to WorldStrides for services not received by you will be promptly refunded by WorldStrides to you unless you otherwise advise WorldStrides in writing,” it said.

As the students were not at fault for the cancellation of Disney Grad Nite, the legal policy expresses their right to a full refund as Senior Caleb Hurst argued.

I think that if it violates their legal policy, then there is no reason we shouldn’t get the full refund back,” he said. “ … It was not our fault [that the Grad Nite was cancelled] any more than it was theirs.”

Some students understand the uncertainty of this unprecedented time that joins the lack of plan for many businesses regarding pre-planned and paid services, but are disappointed with not receiving a full refund. Slater relayed this belief.

I don’t really know the whole situation, or if the company gives the deposit to Disney and maybe they weren’t given the deposit back so we can’t get it back,” she said. “But I think that regardless of what their normal policy is, the coronavirus is unprecedented … If a global pandemic hurts the economy and cancels our graduation trip, the least they can do is give us all our money back.”

What’s more is that other travel organizations such as airlines are providing full refunds, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The U.S. Department of Transportation today [April 3, 2020] issued an Enforcement Notice clarifying, in the context of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, that U.S. and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier,” the report said. “The obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).”

Ham elaborated on this fact.

“For FFA state competition and convention hotel rooms, I’ve been told by Mr. [Steven] Paasch that we were receiving a full refund from the hotels due to the current situation,” she said. “ … If airlines, hotels, and small businesses can give full refunds right now with everything going on, so can a company that’s nationwide.”

She continued to further elucidate upon her resentment towards her situation with WorldStrides.

“Disney Grad Nite hosts thousands of high school seniors every year and many schools use WorldStrides as their travel agency,” she said. “That’s a lot of money being taken away from young adults … We were not included in the stimulus check not even for our parents. We don’t have extra money for you to take away.”

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Controversy ensues as WorldStrides refuses to grant full refunds