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Pembroke Academy school trip to Spain called off

Ursula Askins-Huber was planning on staying up late next Tuesday. That was supposed to be the night she and a group of students from Pembroke Academy would fly overnight to Spain for a nine-day educational tour.

Instead, she was up late all weekend, unable to sleep after hearing the company that booked the tour, which cost about $3,700 per person, won’t be able to live up to its contract, and may be about to file for bankruptcy.

“The ironic part is, I’ve taken kids on many overnight trips and never used a company before. I told the kids this is a big step for me because I’m a control freak,” Askins-Huber, a Pembroke Academy Spanish teacher, said yesterday. “This isn’t going to help.”

The students and parents are devastated, she said.

“I was really disappointed,” said Mason Lane, a 16-year-old just finishing his sophomore year.

“It’s a really important thing for people to see other cultures, and I think it’s an experience to see and visit Spain that I don’t think I’ll ever get another opportunity for.”

Askins-Huber first considered hiring Mariden USA, based in Alexandria, Va., after another trip she organized, where she was so busy leading the tour and organizing the schedules she felt unable to tend to homesick students.

“I thought, if hiring a company means I can focus on the kids’ emotional needs, that would be better. I researched all kinds of travel companies, I turned down some outright, because I was worried they weren’t stable enough, or others because they had reputations for having leaders mostly on the cell phone instead of focused on the kids,” she said. In Mariden USA, “I thought I had found the perfect match.”

Mariden USA did not return a call for comment yesterday. Neither did a representative for TravelGuard, the company from which the group bought travel insurance.

Last week, someone at TravelGuard told Askins-Huber they didn’t know whether the group would be reimbursed.

“The wording of the policy seemed to exclude protection against the bankruptcy of Mariden USA, as they were the agency that sold us the policy,” she wrote in a message to parents.

Judy Pearson said yesterday she felt sick reading Askins-Huber’s letter about the bankruptcy filing, “knowing that it meant I would have to break my son’s heart when I told him.”

“We are not in a position financially to take trips,” Pearson said in an email. “Most of our vacations consist of a couple of day trips locally, so this was a very deep stretch for us. We felt like it was worth the stretch, though, for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Her son saved almost $2,000 – a third of the cost of the trip, plus spending money – from working his part-time job.

“He has spent almost no money on anything other than gas for his car for the past year and a half, saving everything he could to pay for this. To have it ripped away from him at the last minute is just agonizing. You try to teach your children that if they work hard for the things they really want in life, good things will happen. Something like this makes it hard for them to believe it was worth all the sacrificing,” she said.

The families will meet with school officials tonight to discuss the latest information from the insurance company and try to figure out how to file claims, Askins-Huber said.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or
spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Legacy Comments3

Unfortunately this is not the only group this has happened to. Has anyone had better luck trying to come to a resolution for the families affected by the loss of money and time working with Mariden USA has caused?

Wow how horrible for the students, parents and teachers. The travel insurance company sounds like a scam. This should be JUST the kind of thing the travel insurance should cover for. :(

Yes, and it also should be JUST the kind of thing whoever bought the insurance policy for these kids should have made sure was IN the policy by READING the policy before PAYING these scam artists THESE STUDENTS’ MONEY. I will be shocked if these parents do not have a successful case for negligence that PA’s insurance will have to cover, through verdict or settlement.

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