Cienega senior trip back on thanks to donations

Published: May. 22, 2017 at 3:05 PM MST|Updated: May. 22, 2017 at 5:23 PM MST
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(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Students left stranded by a tour company will be going on their senior trip, after all.

According to a spokeswoman for Vail School District, Cienega staff, local businesses and donations to a GoFundMe page all helped make the trip possible again after it had been canceled when the buses didn't show up.

Buses leave Cienega High School on Monday night at 9.

Cienega students, parents and administrators were left scrambling to find out why this year's senior trip fell through and what happened to the tens of thousands of dollars they paid for it.

A GoFundMe page was set up to accept donations from the community. It can be seen HERE.

Ed Norton and Kevin Hart, business partners for a couple Culver's locations in Pima County, donated $7,500 each to the trip. Norton, whose oldest was in the first graduating class at Cienega High, said they felt terrible when they heard what happened.

"You got to take care of your own when you're local," he said.

Seventy-four students and more than a dozen adult chaperones waited in the parking lot of the high school until the early morning hours.

The buses for their trip to Disneyland, Universal Studios and the beach never arrived.

Around 1 a.m., school staff delivered the news that the trip would have to be canceled, according to Vail School District spokeswoman Darcy Mentone.

Breaben Bolton, one of the eager grads ready to hit the road to California, said the news never really sank in.

"I sat in the Cienega parking lot until three in the morning," he said. "It was too unreal. I kept thinking this cannot be happening."

Mentone said district leaders are investigating what happened. She said a call to the bus company after midnight found that the service was never paid for. A call to the hotels about reservations showed that the rooms were partially paid for, but a representative from Senior Grad Trips was supposed to arrive early to pay the rest and help with check-in, according to Mentone.

She said that never happened and the credit card provided for payment was declined when hotel staff attempted to charge the rest of the reservation fee.

Details like that were enough for parent Jessica Williams to wonder if she, or anyone else who paid for this experience, will ever see a refund.

"I've never experienced anything like this before," she said. It's something that you read about or you see on TV but not something that you think is going to happen to you."

In a letter to parents, school officials said Cienega will try to "make the trip happen on our own." The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Parents and Guardians,

Cienega is currently exploring the possibility of moving forward with the Grad Trip later in the week. Although Senior Grad Trips is still not responding, we are attempting to make the trip happen on our own. There are many complicated details that will need to be figured out before we know if this is possible - last minute bussing, (sic) lodging, and park tickets. All of those things are very expensive as well. However, we are working hard to find a way to make the trip happen, without parents paying any additional fees.

We are looking at an alternative source of funding the trip, including club funds and donations. A Go Fund Me has been set up. If you have friends or relatives that would like to donate they may at "Cienega Senior Grad Trip to CA."

Please know that we are doing everything possible to pull this together and make sure our grads don't miss out on this experience. We will update you with details as they become available.

A call and email to Senior Grad Trips has not been returned as of 11 a.m. Monday, May 21. More calls to the company and to the number associated with the company's ownership were not returned later in the day either.

Any money for the trip was paid directly to the company, because the seniors graduated Saturday, May 20 and were technically not students anymore, according to Mentone.

She said the district will still work to help parents and students have their money refunded. A deputy with Pima County Sheriff's Department is working with district staff in case this becomes a case of fraud.

Mentone said student council seniors picked the company. She said Senior Grad Trips had a good reputation and recently coordinated a senior trip for Andrada Polytechnic High School earlier this month.

Williams said a refund is deserved for a situation like this but she's more concerned with her son and his friends having a memorable experience before they all go off to college.

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