SEATTLE -- COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of graduation events that seniors across the country would’ve currently been preparing for.
Instead, parents and students at dozens of high schools across western Washington are searching for answers and refunds after paying Grad Nights, a local event planning company, thousands of dollars.
On its website, Grad Nights promotes drug and alcohol-free parties for high school seniors celebrating with their peers one last time before college.
“I was really excited because you hear the classes before you talking about it,” said Arlington High School Senior, Sophie Fiorillo. “I’m the last one out of the house — my sister has gone to the party and I want to experience it too.”
However, those plans are no longer a reality for the entire graduating class of 2020 because of COVID-19.
Arlington High School parents Kari Fiorillo and Renie Cochran are board members of the parent committee for the schools’ graduating class of 2020.
The moms say they began coordinating with Grad Nights last summer to begin planning the senior night event that was set to happen this July.
Fiorillo says she was suddenly blindsided by an email from Grad Nights sent on May 2nd announcing that due to Covid-19, the company was considering filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy and don’t currently have the resources to refund payments to all of their clients.
“It really bothered me that I didn’t know if I was going to get a refund or not and we still don’t know” said Fiorillo. “When they said possibly doing it as a reunion next year our kids were like no.”
An invoice to parents from October 2019 shows the bill totaled $27,000 for 175 Arlington High School students and 17 chaperones to attend the event. So far the parents say they’ve paid over $18,000 to Grad Nights, money raised through fundraisers payments from parents and students.
Now Fiorillo is concerned that parents and students may never see the money again.
“I kept asking them are we going get our refund because I have parents all asking me as soon as this started. They were saying, we want our money back. We didn’t have money to give because we had already given all of our money to Grad Nights,” said Fiorillo.
Posts on social media sites and updates on school websites show that parents from other local schools are also now in the similar situations.
I have been in contact with a Snohomish High School mom they have put in $20,000, Glacier Peaks has put in $7,000," said Renie Cochran.
“At first we thought it was just us and then one of my friends said I know a lady going through it at Stanwood," said Fiorillo. "Then with her getting on Facebook that’s when we found out it’s not just us."
Q13 News reached out to Grad Nights and asked if parents would be refunded. The company released a statement to us that says in part:
"Some clients have asked for a refund of the fees they’ve paid. Our work is year-round. Payments help fund services we have already completed, including fundraising, consulting, workshops and related activities.”
While Grad Nights says they’re working to find “creative solutions” that include postponing events.
However, parents say with the uncertainty surrounding social distancing mandates, they would rather receive refunds so they can find another way to celebrate their seniors.
"At least let us give them care packages or something," the moms said. "Give the kids something, we want to do something nice for the kids with that money."