A dispute between six families and the Longview School District over $1,000 gift cards is nearing its close, according to district officials. But two families say they have “no intention” of returning the cards, and they are seeking an attorney to advise them on the case.
“We’ve had multiple attorneys tell us we absolutely have a case,” said Kahne Hooper, a mother involved in the dispute. “Most specifically we consulted with a Seattle law firm, and they said they would have taken it on had it been a larger case (financially).”
Six Mark Morris students received an American Express gift card in exchange for giving up their seats on an overbooked flight during a school-sponsored trip. They were traveling home from a national DECA marketing conference in Florida, where many of the students had competed in events at the end of April.
When school officials learned about the cards, they requested students turn them over to the district. The district pointed to state laws that say any money generated through programs and activities of an Associated Student Body belong to the school’s ASB fund and are thereby public funds.
Allowing the students to keep the gift cards would be a gift of public funds, which is prohibited under state law, district officials said, citing the State Auditor’s Office.
Instead, the families could return the cards to the school as repayment for ASB money lent to students to book travel reservations ahead of the conference. Originally, families had agreed to pay back the district through a flower pot fundraiser.
Four of the six Mark Morris families returned or reimbursed their gift cards as the school asked, and the district will “continue to work closely with the (last two) families to find a resolution,” said district spokesman Rick Parrish Tuesday.
But Hooper told The Daily News Wednesday that the last two families don’t plan to return the gift cards “because we disagree with them saying it’s their funds. Until someone of legal authority, like a judge, rules, then we are not (returning the cards).” She said the parents have not been in contact with the district over the matter recently.
The parents want the school to use the fundraiser money to pay their debts, allowing the students to keep their gift cards, Hooper added.
The school applied fines to the two students’ accounts because the cards have not been returned, Hooper said. Those fines would be removed if the families returned the gift card in full — or with cash/check reimbursement for any money spent off the card. (A previous report by The Daily News incorrectly stated that families needed to pay back the gift cards and the trip separately.)
The fundraised money will stay in the ASB account to be used for future DECA expenses, Parrish said. The total balanced raised through the fundraiser was not available Wednesday, but Hooper said her daughter alone raised close to $800.
As of right now, there is no deadline for the last two families to repay the district, Parrish said. However, if the money isn’t repaid to the district, it could affect the next two years of high school for the sophomore students, Hooper said.
“If we don’t pay that fine, their policy as a school is that … you cannot attend school dances or do certain school activities,” Hooper said. “And you cannot (walk at graduation). …They have fines on their accounts now, and we are not sure what’s going to happen in the fall.”