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NORTH TEXAS (CBS11 NEWS) – Martin and Kelly Towey want answers. In mid-June, the Sanger couple sent their 15-year-old on a European trip through EF tours. It was meant to be a trip alone with friends to London, Paris, Rome and Florence under the watchful eye of a chaperone. They felt safe sending her because they thought the girls would be watched the entire time. “We wanted her to have that international experience without us guiding her, Kelly Towey told CBS11 News.
They were not too concerned about the trip with her school friends. “The release statement said the right words,” Martin Towey said pointing to their copy of Release and Agreement. “The group leader must accompany the child at all times. They had brochures that say the same over and over again.”
But when she came home, they learned that she and the group of seven girls were left alone from 1-6 hours everyday during free time. “He [their group leader] put a point on the map, and told the girls to meet back in four hours,” Towey said pointing at the mark on the map of Rome.
Their daughter told them, the girls ages 14-16 would pair off in smaller groups and do their own thing. “They were completely on their own to do whatever they would,” Towey said.
Their trip was about two weeks before the terrorist attack in Nice, France. Concerned about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Kelly Towey was very concerned, “Certainly our teacher, our group leader with the other teachers couldn’t have just left the kids run amok in Paris during Ramadan and the World Cup when the Eiffel Tower is closed to tourists because of terrorist threats,” she said.
They reached out to the group leader responsible for their daughter’s group. They asked him about the language in the safety brochure that states “The group leader must accompany kids at all time including meals, sighseeing and excursion.”
The Towey’s also contacted EF tours, the company in charge of the trip. They asked the company the same thing. The company told them that it lets group leaders decide how to handle free time. The Toweys are concerned about this. “I don’t think any one of us thought free times as being, ‘I’m going to go shopping and leave your kids wandering around a foreign country,’ ” they said. “There’s no accountability and they’re all banking on the fact that nothing goes wrong.”
We reached out to EF Tours who told us that safety is their top priority.
The company sent the following statement: “The safety of our travelers is always our top priority. We understand Mr. Towey’s concerns, which relate to his interpretation of language pertaining to supervision and free time in the pre-tour materials we provide to all travelers. As these materials note, it is the responsibility of the Group Leader to remain with the group at all times during scheduled tour activities; however, free time is often built into our itineraries, and during these times it is up to the Group Leader to decide whether to allow students to explore on their own. Every group is different, and the Group Leader will know his or her students far better than we ever could. Which is why we leave this decision, among many decisions related to student behavior on tour, to the discretion of the Group Leader.
Had we learned of these concerns during the group’s tour, we would have made sure Mr. Towey and the Group Leaders connected immediately to address these concerns and make changes if necessary. We have robust safety infrastructure in place including regional offices in nearly every destination we travel, a 24-hour emergency support line, and a dedicated Tour Director who travels with each group that allows us to react to on-tour challenges and concerns as soon as they arise. In light of Mr. Towey’s feedback, we are reviewing the language in our pre-departure materials to ensure that parents have the information and understanding they need to work with their Group Leader and come to an agreement around supervision during free time.”
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