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Stratford High School tells students prom venue refuses to refund nearly $20,000 in deposits after cancelled prom

HOUSTON – Stratford High School parents are upset with the school’s prom event venue. School leaders told students and parents that they were not getting full refunds back for prom tickets.

In a letter to the graduates, the principal explained that they paid the venue, Citadel Houston, nearly $20,000 in deposits before the pandemic. After working with the venue, the principal said that the school was not going to get its deposits back.

“It’s just literally been one disappointment to another,” said a Stratford High School parent Elizabeth Snelling.

Snelling, whose son recently graduated from Stratford, said the students have been through a tumultuous year and this was the last thing they needed. On top of not having in-person graduation, Snelling said they were devastated to learn that the students would not be reimbursed for the student’s $100 prom tickets.

"When we found out that we weren't going to get our refund, I think I was a little bit shocked," Snelling said.

Stratford High School's principal sent out this letter to the 2020 graduates:

Dear 2020 Graduates,

I write to provide an update on the refund status of prom tickets. As you are aware, we have to secure our venue with a series of deposits prior to our actual prom date. Prior to March 12th when we left school for the year, we made deposits totaling $19,994.00 to Citadel Houston. For the past month, I have corresponded with our representative from Citadel Houston to try and work out an arrangement to recoup some, if not all of our deposit. After discussing in phone and through email, it appears they are not willing to return any of our deposit.

When I asked about our state and local authorities restricting large scale gatherings, Citadel Houston responded by stating they are “ready, willing, and able to host events…….our venue is following the guidelines set in place by Governor Abbot and given those restrictions, Citadel can accommodate the 300 students stated as the guest count.” They also stated that cancelling now was a school decision and they technically could require us to repay the remaining balance. Here is their exact response to me when I asked about cancelling and if they are willing to work with us with the deposit: “As it is laid out in your contract, the client is responsible for the remaining balance for an event that was canceled within 120 days of the scheduled event date. Please remember that we did reschedule your event for July as accommodation for the current environment at your request. Given COVID we are willing to use the current balance owed towards the 2021 Stratford Prom at The Citadel.” So in essence, they will not return our money and they are doing us a favor by not requiring us to pay the remaining balance for cancelling our Prom. However, Stratford could use that towards next year’s prom if we rebooked with them.

I share this information with you because I promised you full transparency. I am not happy with this response and amongst all of the other hot topic items we are currently faced with, I still hope to work towards a resolution for this situation. As of this moment, we do not have enough money in our prom account to process all of the refund requests. However, I will work with our finance team to explore all available options to try and make this situation right for the Class of 2020. As much as I would love to believe that all organizations can look beyond the bottom dollar and do what’s right by others, this is an example that not everyone or every entity operates with that same mindset.

I apologize for the inconvenience and for the delay. You are not forgotten and as quickly as we can resolve this matter, we will refund all prom ticket requests at our earliest convenience. Thank you for patience and understanding. Please feel free to send me an email if you have any questions or concerns.

Signing off as your principal,

Raymorris A. Barnes

Mary Ellen Hensley, who's son is a recent graduate, said while the venue could technically have a prom under the governor's requirements, she said the nature of the event does not allow for people to be safely socially-distanced. She said the venue's response was not fair and not considerate of the pandemic.

“I was very upset. Reaching out to others everyone voice the same opinion,” Hensley said.

Lori Troutman, whose son is also a recent graduate, said the students have been through enough.

“There are kids that have been through Hurricane Harvey and now a pandemic. It’s been a rough year,” Troutman said.

KPRC 2 reached out the Citadel Houston. Citadel Houston stated:

"Multiple options were given and many accommodations were made for Stratford, (including scheduling their date twice, waiving their [remaining] contract balance, and incurring losses because they canceled the rescheduled event a week prior) but they were not interested in working with us.

We are in the hospitality industry have been hurt the most and we believe this is bullying of a small business. We are disappointed by this slanderous tactic, especially because we have many other prom clients who are extremely pleased with our service and have signed multiple-year contracts with us. We have worked painstakingly and tirelessly over the last few months to make sure we accommodate all our client's dreams and wishes and we will not tolerate being bullied by anyone."

Several parents said the district leaders canceled prom in order to protect students from the pandemic and to take precautions, and they hoped that the venue would offer more understanding.

“We’re hoping they realize there’s more to life than making the hard-earned dollar...that it means more to make the community happy,” Troutman said.