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Parents Feel Cheated Out Of Thousands Of Dollars After Montgomery County Summer Camp Refuses Full Refund

HAVERFORD, Pa. (CBS) -- A prestigious summer camp based in Montgomery County is under fire. Parents accuse them of taking money -- in many cases, thousands of dollars -- but not offering full refunds after canceling for the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

ESF Camps has more than a dozen locations in Pennsylvania, one at The Haverford School and what it calls its Winter Headquarters in Bryn Mawr, New Jersey, Maryland, New York and Connecticut. It's a sought after camp, where kids can learn everything from tennis to fencing. They can build robots or fly drones. But with in-person camp now canceled, some parents say they won't accept anything less than all their money back.

"I don't need this right now," parent Valeriya Poukas said.

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Poukas, a mom of two and a doctor, has been on the frontlines of the pandemic. She paid nearly $3,000 to send her 7-year-old daughter to the camp.

"I would like a full refund so I can salvage summer for these kids," Poukas said.

Jodi Teitelman is a single mom who paid about $6,700 to send her two kids to ESF.

"We were never clear if they decided to cancel camp, or if they had to cancel camp until this past week," Teitelman said.

Last week, ESF Camps director announced on YouTube that in-person camps will be canceled for the summer due to health concerns from COVID-19.

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While its website talks about character building and trust, parents also learned last week that ESF Camps will not offer full refunds for anyone who requested one past April 1.

Instead, parents can choose one of three options: a digital camp where a child essentially spends part of the summer in front of a computer and parents get a discount next year; parents can also apply their parent for next year and on top of that get a 20% credit; or if parents just want a refund, ESF would automatically take 30% of what they already paid due to "unrecoverable costs," while parents get the rest in increments over the next year.

"If they go bankrupt, I don't think any of us are going to see that money," Poukas said.

"I'd like him to understand that we're not going to settle for less than a 100% refund," Teitelman said. "It just doesn't make sense otherwise. That's their choice. A lot of parents are not able to not have our money for 12 months. We need it for this summer. I'm not OK with losing $2,000 or $3,000 of that money."


Asked about its unrecoverable costs, ESF Camps said in a statement, "As an independent small business, this was not an easy financial decision. Keep in mind like many school settings, we incur expenses throughout the year to develop curriculum, recruit the best talent to instruct kids in the summer, train our staff, make program enhancements, process enrollments, purchase supplies, make capital improvements to camp facilities and provide year-round customer service, all of which are funded by camp tuition. Unfortunately, those costs are not recoverable and we don't have an endowment to draw from."

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office says 40 complaints were filed against ESF Camps. The office also says if parents paid with a credit card, they can try to get their money back through their credit card company.

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