For students at John D. O’Bryant High School, a school-sponsored trip to Europe has become a rite of passage.
While it was bad enough that last spring’s trip – which was scheduled for April vacation week – was canceled in March by BPS officials because of the pandemic, what happened to the 44 students and their families was saved and saved up to pay for the adventure, much worse: They haven’t got most of the money back, even though they have taken out insurance.
Mya Bent Monegro, an 11th grade student at O’Bryant, was delighted with the trip which had planned visits to Rome, Geneva, Paris, Caen and London for her and her classmates. It was a costly endeavor: each student paid $ 3,600 to book and $ 45 to insure the booking, which was no easy task for many neighborhood children from working class families.
“When the trip was canceled I thought it was fine because the insurance should have covered everything that happened,” said Monegro. “There was a global pandemic and nobody could control it.”
But like her co-workers and families, Monegro is upset that she has only received a partial refund to date of $ 899, or 25 percent of the $ 3,600. Each family received an initial payout of $ 818 in September and another payout of $ 81 in October. This was the result of months of discussion between the school district, the attorney general, and Augusta Musico, owner of All My World Travel, the Boston agency that booked the trip.
When Musico filed a group insurance claim on behalf of the families with Halsbury Travel, the UK-based agency she had worked with to book the trip, Halsbury denied the claim.
Carolina Monegro De Bent, Mya’s mother, then filed a complaint with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office to try to get some of her money back.
“Even if we can’t get anything back from the international part, Ms. Musico should be held liable,” said Bent. “It’s your travel agent that went through school.”
According to the Secretary of State’s corporate database, Musico dissolved its East Boston-based travel company on September 8. She also hired an attorney, Jeffrey Ment, a managing partner of the Ment Law Group, to negotiate with Halsbury Travel.
“As far as we know, the insurance company’s position is that for a number of reasons it does not have to cover the damage,” Ment said in a phone call with the reporter.
“First, they claim that they only offer insurance to UK residents. Second, they claim that they do not cover claims for trips canceled due to aversion to travel at a time when the world was not yet completely closed. So it seems to have to do with the timing of the cancellation and the school district’s decision to cancel the trip rather than the travel company canceling it. “
In an interview with the reporter last week, Musico said, “I have tried everything to get the refund from my correspondent in England, Halsbury Travel. Also, my lawyer tried to get all refunds from airlines, hotels, etc. But I didn’t succeed because they won’t give me the refund. I gave what I had in my pockets to the students and families and then closed everything because I ran out of money. What else can I do?
“I’m really sorry, I’m so frustrated and I’ve suffered too much,” said Musico, who says she is now unemployed. “I closed everything because I ran out of money. Now we’re trying to speak to the mayor to help them. But I can’t do more, ”said Musico, sounding desperate.
Sally Johnson, whose daughter had also signed up for the trip, paid the full cost, which most other families couldn’t.
“The biggest thing for me is that this isn’t a school for rich kids,” said Johnson. “Many of them saved themselves and worked their own jobs to get the money and buy the insurance. From my point of view, we worked with a travel agency in Boston. I don’t know what technical details there are that they worked out. It’s just so unfortunate that everything went wrong. “
Robert Carr, the father of an 11th grade student, said the insurance policy covered for the trip “has so many different loopholes that it is essentially not exempt from a possible cancellation notice that it does not even cover the $ 40 worth what we paid it for. “At this point, he said the only way for families to get money back from Halsbury would be through individual hiring of lawyers in the UK.
In the meantime, Johnson has taken on the task of creating a GoFundMe page that is legally unrelated to O’Bryant School and is not yet online in hopes of raising funds to help students and families to help regain some of what they have lost.
“If there’s some money in a fund somewhere to help disadvantaged children, it would be one of many good ways to use that money,” said Carr. “This really isn’t something anyone has the financial means or the will to do, and at this point it looks to me like the path we’re going is either media attention that is a fire under the office of the Mayor ignites, or we’re running a GoFundMe campaign and trying to raise money from donors. “
He added, “If BPS chooses to do more trips in the future, each trip should be linked to a million dollars and be insured to make sure it never happens again.”
When asked about the cancellation and the problems it caused, a spokesman for Boston Public Schools said the department was looking into various ways these families could reimburse some or all of the costs.
“We’re also working on creating a more centralized process for reviewing and reviewing travel providers for future domestic and international travel,” the spokesman said.
In addition, Healey’s office confirmed that it had logged nine complaints about All My World Travel’s role in the O’Bryant trip, but did not say whether staff will follow up on the issue.
A spokesperson said Healey’s office had received more than 4,000 complaints related to travel agents and the pandemic and that the attorney had given priority to securing refunds and referring complaints to domestic travel companies, which has led consumers to agree Complaints related to other trips have reclaimed around 5.8 million US dollars.
Mya Bent Monegro said the ordeal was a difficult lesson for her and her classmates. “I would be more careful and read the fine lines of all the policies to see what exactly the insurance covers to decide if I really want to go on a trip in the future,” she said. “My family doesn’t have $ 3,600 to spare, but we’ve worked hard this year. My mother had to do extra shifts. We stopped going out or buying things we didn’t really need – like clothes or fast food. “
Her mother says the experience was disruptive for her daughter at an already challenging time.
“Everyone is upset. Mya is upset because she feels it is her fault that I lose the money. She’s still struggling hard in school to keep her grades up without it bothering her too much – but it bothers her. We can see it. ”