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Jefferson County Schools considering reimbursing parents after band trip was canceled

Three schools in the district hired Musical Destinations to coordinate band trip but say promised refunds have not been paid
Updated: Mar. 9, 2021 at 5:25 PM CST
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GARDENDALE, Ala. (WBRC) – Musical Destinations, a travel company based in Florida, is withholding refunds for canceled band trips owed to at least six school districts in Alabama, according to district leadership. WBRC Fox6 On Your Side Investigators have found schools in Georgia and Mississippi that also claim Musical Destinations and its owner, Joseph “Jody” Cooper, has failed to return promised refunds and has stopped all communication with the schools.

READ: St. Clair County BOE sues travel company, claiming it failed to return $100,000 for trip canceled due to pandemic

“You know I’m just at point where I have no words,” said Amber Hubbard, whose daughter, Emalyn is on the Dance Team at Gardendale High School. “I’m just in awe and that’s not just our school but several school systems that they have done this to and somewhere there has to be a way to find some answers.”

Hubbard paid $760 for Emalyn to go on a performance trip with the Dance Team and Gardendale High School Band last April. Gardendale High School’s Band Boosters hired Musical Destinations to coordinate the trip and said after it was canceled, the company promised to return its money. Nearly a year later and the money hasn’t been returned.

“I’m very frustrated,” said Hubbard.

She added, “That money is worked hard for so when you pay something like that, and you sacrifice to make sure your children can do these things, you know not getting that money back or put toward something for her in the future, or you know let’s re-plan the trip, it’s very frustrating, you know especially with the pandemic.”

“Whether we are talking about $10, $80, or in most of these cases, $800, you know that’s significant to us,” said Dr. Walter Gonsoulin, Superintendent, Jefferson County Schools.

Gardendale, Shades Valley, and Fultondale High Schools hired Musical Destinations to coordinate its band trips last spring. Dr. Gonsoulin said the company owes one of those schools at least $100,000.

“The Jefferson County School District, as a party, we were never under contract with [Musical Destinations], so we had our booster clubs that were under contract with this group. So, litigation wise, legal wise, we have been on the outside trying to gather information, see what’s going on, so we can see how we can help our families.”

Dr. Gonsoulin said after it was decided a lawsuit wasn’t feasible, the district “pivoted” to come up with a plan to get parents the money they’re owed, including the possibility of the district reimbursing the cost of the trip.

“If it’s legal and we can, we will do it and it is something we are looking at, it’s one of the options, and we are consulting with our attorneys to see if it is a viable option. Our number one goal is to see how we can get the families, the children and the programs back their moneys and then how can we do things differently in the future so we wouldn’t be in this position,” explained Dr. Gonsoulin.

Shelby County Schools worked with Musical Destinations and said the company never repaid promised refunds to band parents at Chelsea Middle and High Schools. The district is taking $116,031.78 from its General Fund to repay parents.

St. Clair County Schools Board of Education and The Springville High School Band Boosters have filed a lawsuit against Musical Destinations and Cooper, claiming they’re owed $110,000 after their trip was canceled. John Rea, the attorney representing the district and boosters, said they are still trying to get Cooper served in Orlando.

Click here to contact the WBRC FOX6 News On Your Side Investigation Team.

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