After back-and-forth email correspondence yesterday, Superintendent Devon Horton and Nichols Middle School parents cleared up a miscommunication regarding a planned trip that District 65 canceled. The district ultimately decided to reschedule the trip. 

Nichols parents received an email from Principal Marcus Wright on Jan. 14 stating that due to the omicron surge, District 65 had decided to cancel the eighth grade Civil Rights Trip to Alabama scheduled Feb. 17 through Feb. 20.

The last-minute cancellation left the 36 parents who didn’t buy trip insurance – and spent $1,500 on the trip – ineligible for a refund from Brightspark Travel, the contracted travel agency that helped plan the trip.

Concerned about the financial impact on families and upset by the district’s lack of communication given how much time was invested in planning the trip, parents emailed Horton and other school board members demanding that the district reinstate the trip for the original dates and provide clarification on why the trip was postponed.

In his email responses, Horton was “very transparent,” said a Nichols parent. The trip will be postponed, and families whose children cannot attend the trip later this school year will be reimbursed, either by Brightspark Travel or by the district, if the travel agency refuses, Horton wrote.

Horton also explained why the trip was postponed at the last minute, citing a series of missteps by both the school and the district. Specifically, a misunderstanding on whether the trip was classified as a “field trip” or a “privately arranged trip” caused some confusion. 

According to School Board Policy Field Trips and Recreational Class Trips, field trips beyond a 200-mile radius of the school or that extend overnight require the board’s approval. 

Although some conversations about the trip took place earlier in the pandemic, the district believed that the trip was no longer happening, according to Horton’s email. Instead, board members spoke with principals about potentially planning an in-state trip, accessible to all students, he wrote. 

Meanwhile, staff and parents scheduled the trip for February 2022 without the board’s approval, and Horton did not know the trip was still happening until Dec. 7, after the Nov. 15 refund deadline, according to his email.

An email by a parent, however, stated that the trip qualified as a privately arranged trip, which is exempt from the school board field trip policy that requires approval from the board. Via email correspondence, Horton and the parent agreed that the district policy is unclear. 

School board members planned to discuss the trip at the Dec. 7 Curriculum/Policy Committee meeting, but decided to table the discussion until more information was available, Horton explained in his email. At that point, the district planned to still move forward with the trip, but was working to get formal approval, he wrote. 

In light of the pandemic and spiking omicron cases, the district decided to postpone the trip: “It would be in poor standing, taste, and leadership to allow a trip of this nature to occur during the pandemic.”

The Nichols parent, who asked not to be named, said the district has been “really responsive” and that parents believe the whole situation could have been avoided if the district had better communicated with parents and teachers from the start.

“I wish it hadn’t all unfolded in this way,” said the parent. Given the time that teachers put into planning the trip, developing a curriculum, and working with families, the district’s last-minute decision making without input from teachers was disrespectful and unprofessional, she added.

“As our Superintendent, I take full responsibility for any gaps in communication presented throughout this time,” Horton wrote in his email. 

Horton also discussed the trip in a District 65 Personnel, Building & Grounds, Finance Committee meeting Jan. 24, saying that going forward, the district will work closely with families and teachers to reschedule the trip and reimburse parents.

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...