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Compensation call for schools who cancelled trips pre-lockdown in interest of pupil safety

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Education Minister Peter Weir is to be asked to intervene to see what action his Department can take to help schools left out of pocket after they cancelled trips ahead of lockdown in the interest of health and safety of pupils and staff.

Upper Bann MLA John O’Dowd has tabled a question to Mr Weir requesting him to detail what actions, if any, the Department for Education has taken to “explore options as to how schools and parents who lost money due to cancelled trips because of the Corvid-19 crisis can receive compensation”.

Hundreds of pupils across Northern Ireland have lost money.

While many trips will be refunded or reclaimed in terms of flights cancelled after lockdown, there are those who chose not to travel before the introduction out of genuine concerns.

One such school was New-Bridge Integrated College in Loughbrickland.

A party of 46 staff and pupils had been due to travel for a three-day music and theatre trip to London in the middle of March.

The school took the decision to cancel due to concerns for health two days prior to departure.

This has meant that each stands to lose the £399 paid for flights, accommodation and show tickets.

Principal Mrs Anne Anderson said they had hoped to reschedule but have been told by operator NST that this is not possible, as they had already paid the suppliers for the various elements of the trip – flights, accommodation and other tickets for activities which had been lined up.

She spoke to BBC News NI about the predicament and has appealed for NST to “relax” the rules.

Mrs Anderson said: “I totally acknowledge that this late cancellation normally would mean losing money but these are unprecedented times.

“Neither the school or our families, who have saved for this trip, will receive any compensation for their loss.

“I have appealed to NST travel to relax their normal cancellation rules.

“I’ve also asked MLAs if there could be some form of contingency funding to support schools who have had to cancel their trips.

“We have been in touch with our insurers to see where we go from here as normal cancellation policies need to be revised, but very few insurance policies cover for unexpected events like this.”

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd has taken the issue on board and has tabled his question to the Education Minister.

He said: “A number of local schools had overseas trips planned but because of the Covid-19 outbreak they had to be cancelled, some before the Foreign Office had advised against overseas travel.

“In such cases many insurances companies are refusing to pay out.

“Schools and parents have lost quite considerable sums of money and I have asked the Education Minister to explore options as to how his Department could assist in compensating those affected.

“Many normal functions of Departments have been suspended and there will be savings to be found as a result.

“I think the  Minster should give serious consideration to using identified savings for such a compensation.”

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