Durham families out thousands of dollars, unable to get refunds for cancelled school trips

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WATCH: Hundreds of families in Durham say they're out thousands of dollars because of school trips that were cancelled as a result of the pandemic. It has now been months without any indication as to how they can get their money back. Brittany Rosen reports. – Oct 27, 2020

Hundreds of families in Durham say they’re out thousands of dollars because of school trips that were cancelled as a result of the pandemic. While they were promised refunds, it has now been several months without any indication as to how they can get their money back.

For Saveria Nikolic’s 15-year-old daughter, Emily, the trip was meant to be the experience of a lifetime.

“She was so excited,” said Nikolic.

The family worked extremely hard to put away $3,500 to send their daughter on a school trip to Italy and France. Emily currently attends Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Courtice, Ont.

Read more: Coronavirus: Ontario parents await refunds 5 months after school trips cancelled

“We went without the little extras for a little bit,” the parent of two said.

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“Emily’s diabetic, so that’s an expense also as it is, but you know we did it, and we were proud to do it for her.”

Then, one by one, the Nikolic’s were hit with pieces of bad news. First, the trip was cancelled by the school board due to the pandemic. Then, both Saveria and her husband were laid off work. They got their jobs back several months later, but now the family is dealing with being unable to obtain a refund.

Ajax mom Lisa Lascelles is in a similar position. She says her daughter, Ashley, who attends Ajax High School, not only fundraised to help pay for a school trip to the Netherlands, but also allocated her Christmas and birthday money towards it.

“For Ashley, she has great uncles that were in the war, so she was going to be able to go see their tombstones and things that all had to do with the 75th Liberation of the Netherlands,” said Lascelles.

Read more: Parents fighting for refunds of coronavirus cancelled school trips set to file class-action lawsuit

Ashley says “the buildup was obviously exciting. The fundraising was exciting too because I (was) getting closer and closer to my goal.”

Students at Ajax High School and Holy Trinity CSS are among a handful of schools in the region who made payments to Explorica, a company offering educational tours and student travel experiences. Many families, including the Lascelles’s and the Nikolic’s, took out insurance with Arch Insurance or Old Republic Insurance, which underwrites Explorica’s travel protection policy.

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The families have been sending countless emails to both Explorica and the insurance companies for months now, but have yet to see a refund for the trip.

“We were told, ‘Just wait, just wait. Wait six to eight weeks,'” Lascelles said.

“‘It’s all of the COVID stuff. There’s backup to this and backup to that.”

Eventually, six weeks turned into six months. Still, nothing. The mother added she’s sent in documents and information requested by Explorica and Arch Insurance multiple times, which she says “doesn’t make sense. It’s the same information, why do we have to send it three different times. (The companies) should be talking to each other.”

The Durham District School Board tells Global News the issue has impacted at least 300 families within the board.

Read more: Nova Scotia cancels all school-sanctioned international trips over COVID-19 concerns

Lawyers with Newfoundland and Toronto firms Curtis Dawe Lawyers and Sotos LLP have collaborated to file a class action lawsuit against Explorica’s parent company, WorldStrides, Arch Insurance and Old Republic Insurance. Curtis Dawe tells Global News they are representing about 4,000 families across the country who have been impacted.

“It’s our position that (the companies) did not fulfill their end of the contract on the basis that the trip was never fulfilled,” said associate lawyer Travis Payne.

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“The students or parents should not have to pay for that service.”

Payne says the insurance companies have not denied the families a refund, but are stating their claims are still in review because they “don’t have the proper information.”

“This is a situation where we have corporations pointing the finger at one another, blaming each other, and the individuals are the ones caught in the middle and not getting a refund,” said Payne.

While both insurance companies did not respond to Global News’ request for comment, Explorica spokesperson Stephanie Kerr said in an emailed statement the company “(stands) by our position that Explorica has fulfilled its portion of refunds owed to customers under our program terms.”

Payne says lawyers will be proceeding to take action with the courts.