More than 70 Cienega High School graduates were left hanging Sunday night when the buses that were supposed to take them to California didn’t show and their travel company couldn’t be reached.
Cienega High School’s Class of 2017 planned to celebrate their graduation by visiting the beach, Disneyland and Universal Studios.
“They were at Cienega waiting for the buses to show up,” said Darcy Mentone, a Vail School District spokeswoman. “And the buses never arrived.”
The students, each of whom paid $500 for the trip, and a dozen adult supervisors in the group were puzzled as they tried to reach the bus company, thinking maybe there was an issue with the buses, she said.
But the bus company told them it never received payment from Senior Grad Trips, a travel company Cienega students booked their trip through, so it canceled the bus rides, Mentone said. On top of that, the hotel the graduates were going to stay at said it had only received a partial payment from the trip company and that its credit card was declined.
Parents and school staff then tried to reach Senior Grad Trips, she said. The company did not answer, and had not answered at all as of Monday afternoon. To make matters worse, its website was down.
“It being a scam is certainly a possibility,” Mentone said, though the district hasn’t concluded that.
Mike Robinette dropped off his son, Noah, around 11:45 p.m. Sunday. The buses weren’t there, but the teachers were waiting so he felt comfortable leaving his son and drove back home to Corona de Tucson. “Just as we’re going home, I get a call and he says we have to come back,” he said.
“He was upset, but he’s dealing with it,” Robinette said of his son. “He’s angry about it, of course.”
He had paid Senior Grad Trips $500 in December for Noah’s trip. “They definitely cashed my checks, took my money,” he said.
Now the Pima County Sheriff’s Department is working with Cienega High School to get to the bottom of it. If Senior Grad Trips can be reached and agrees to refund all of the money, it won’t be a crime, but if not, the incident will be treated as a fraud case, Mentone said.
Andrada Polytechnic High School’s graduates used the same company for their graduation trip, which took place earlier this month, she said. That school’s trip adviser discovered before the trip that Senior Grad Trips had not paid the bus company, but the matter was taken care of and Andrada students had a successful trip.
Andrada’s transaction with Senior Grad Trips took place through the school’s account, as graduation had not yet happened and the students were still enrolled at the school. However, Cienega students booked directly with the company, because the trip was happening after their graduation, which was held Saturday.
Meanwhile, Cienega High is still trying to make the California graduation trip a reality for the 74 students. The school and its community pulled together to bring in some money. “At the moment, they’re still trying to put that together,” Mentone said.
“It just shows you what a great community Vail school district is,” Robinette, a graduate’s parent, said.
A crowdfunding campaign seeking $15,000 to cover the costs of the trip has been set up to help the students. As of Monday afternoon, the plan was for the graduates to take off to California at 9 p.m.