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Uproar: Terrill Students Turned Away from Ellis Island

Furious parents are blaming Statue Cruises VP Mike Burke who allegedly allowed a friend's school group to cut in front of the Terrill students.

Editor's Note: This story was initially posted on June 1, 2012 at 3:55 p.m. and has been updated.

More than 240 fifth graders faced major disappointment today when they had no choice but to leave Ellis Island before even getting on the boat.

Liz Maythenyi, a mother of two students who were on the failed field trip reached out to Patch today after a chaperone contacted her via text message. Maythenyi said that multiple chaperones told her that at 12:30 p.m. the group had yet to board a boat for the ten-minute ride across the river – a trip Terrill Middle School scheduled, and paid for, months ago.

Maythenyi stated that while Terrill Middle students were patiently waiting to board the boats for their 10 a.m. tour, another large school group waiting behind the students was picked out by a Statue Cruises employee who ushered the chosen group in front of the Terrill students.

“The boats run every half hour and every boat that came after that other group was selected to go first, was filled up by the students in that group. Our kids were left waiting until it was too late. By the time 12:30 rolled around, they couldn’t go to the island because the busses were on the way to bring them back to Scotch Plains.”

Maythenyi stated that the chaperones on hand confronted the employees on site, who indicated that their boss, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Statue Cruises Michael Burke, had directed the employees to lead the other group in front.

“The poor guys who were in charge of letting people on the boat felt terrible so they were frank with us,” Maythenyi said. “They said, 'My boss was telling me to let this other group on because they’re from his friend’s school. It came from upstairs. Please don’t be mad at us.'”     

Terrill Middle School Principal Kevin Holloway also remarked on the day’s events.

“Today, the trip to Ellis Island had to be cancelled because of unforeseen circumstances. The ferry that would carry the students to Ellis Island was overbooked by the owner. As a result of this oversight on behalf of Statue Cruises, our trip is being rescheduled for Wednesday, June 6. Statue Cruises is providing compensation. The plans for the trip will remain the same as previously communicated.” 

Many parents are crying foul on the Statue Cruises Facebook page. At first, Statue Cruise – the only boat line available for tourists trying to reach the island – tried to quell the bad buzz by deleting the posts, but, after hours of criticism, the organization posted this apology:

“We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience which our guests have experienced. I can assure you that what you have witnessed today prior to boarding our vessel is not our normal protocol. Our guests are very important to us and we will ensure it does not occur in the future. We are reaching out to all guests that were affected to extend our apologies as well as reimburse for tickets purchased today.”

Terrill Middle School mom, and trip chaperone Sandy Jameson Davis posted the following in response to the Facebook apology.

“Shame on your CEO mike Burke who REFUSED to speak with the teachers from Terrill middle school after you decided to ruin the 5th grade field trip for 240+ students from Scotch Plains NJ. As a parent who witnessed this, you should be ashamed that you instructed your employees to allow special treatment for your friend’s kids and their classmates and pass us by as our kids were waiting an hour in line. Btw those kids you decided to let on the ferry gave our students the finger and the loser sign as they sailed away. I guess knowing the CEO doesn't mean you have manners. At least our students were polite and respectful even after being told their trip was cancelled. Man up and respond!”

Although Statue Cruises has agreed to refund the ticket costs, Maytheni expressed that the gesture does not make up for the disappointment her twins Juliet and Nicholas are experiencing today.

“This was supposed to be a celebratory end of the year event,” Maytheni said. “We all prepared them for the wonders of Ellis Island – their moms and dads missed a day of work to experience it with them. A refund can’t make up for that. Statue Cruises needs to do right by us and pay for another trip and the cost of traveling expenses.”

Update - 6 p.m.: Patch Speaks to Statue Cruises 

Patch spoke with Tegan Firth, a public relations manager for Statue Cruises’ parent company, Hornblower. Firth had a very different take on today’s events. Firth stated that the decision to allow the larger group to go in front of Terrill students was made by line supervisors.

“The larger group of about 400 students had a 2-1/2-hour drive home so the line supervisors made the decision to let that group go first,” Firth said.

Firth also stated that the line supervisor’s decision to let the larger group go first had nothing to do with Statue Cruises COO and VP Michael Burke, who, according to Firth, has no ties to the larger group’s school. 

In a lengthy statement released on the organization’s blog, Terrill Middle School parents are implicated as the ones who “dropped the name” and the story that Burke was at fault. That’s also the story Firth told to Patch at the beginning of the interview this evening. 

Less than five minutes into the interview, Firth stated something different.

“We don’t dispute anything the Terrill Middle School Parents are saying,” Firth said. “The Line Supervisor was not skilled in handling confrontation and was saying whatever he could to diffuse the situation. He didn’t use his words right. He said ,‘I had to do this, it came from up above’ and he used Michael Burke’s name when, in reality, Michael Burke had no connection to the incident.”

Firth stated that she collected this information from Michael Burke, who had spoken to the Director of Sales, who had heard the firsthand account of the Line Supervisor involved.  

Adding to the confusion, Firth contradicted the accounts of Liz Maythenyi and many other parents, stating that Terrill students would only have had to wait 25 additional minutes to board the next ferry.  

“The larger group boarded at 10:30 a.m. so Terrill should have been able to board at 10:55 a.m." Firth sayd. "It is unfortunate that Terrill Middle School was unable to wait for the next ferry, which departed 25 minutes later, but that was the choice the chaperones and teachers made. They were not turned away or asked to leave.”

In an effort to make amends, Firth stated that Terrill Middle School has been refunded for the cost of tickets and bussing, and given complimentary tickets for next Wednesday when they will be greeted with a pizza party and foam crowns.

“We learned a few important lessons today, and one of those is giving our line supervisors more training in explaining decisions to people who are upset,” Firth said. “We’ll work on communication skills with our whole team and we hope we are never in this situation again. We thank the Terrill Middle School community for understanding and we look forward to seeing you soon!”

Anoyomous June 01, 2012 at 08:47 PM
How is this breaking news? Give me a break there are so many tragedies in the world that deserve attention. Today a woman in the Sudan was sentenced to be stoned to death and a 2 yr old missing girl from Maine was declared dead. Pleaseeople stop being so dramatic it appears this matter has been solved already no harm no foul. I think the Patch lost any journalistic integrity for reporting this as breaking news.
Jas June 01, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Anoyomus----The patch is a local newscast site! This is local school news! I am glad to hear these types of stories rather than the ones you mention! If I wanted to hear about those breaking news headlines I would be reading MSNBC's website- not the Patch!
Tina Fairweather June 01, 2012 at 09:16 PM
@ Anonymous, understandably, this "breaking news" pales in comparison to the stories you mention, however, this is a local news forum, for local news and events. If you're not interested in such local breaking news, then perhaps its best to focus your attenion elsewhere.
Valerie quinones June 01, 2012 at 09:22 PM
To anonymous, You don't even have the guts to put your name! I'm sure no one is diminishing the tragedies that take place every day all over the world, but it is tragic that 5th graders and their parents, who planned this for months, took off a day from work and school, were denied access to go see THE STATUE OF LIBERTY, the thing that represents our rights as Americans, because the CEO let another class take priority. This was not a display of equality and freedom that we are entitled to in OUR COUNTRY!!!!
Bubba G June 01, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Hello Anonymous,  First, please spell correctly, it's anonymous.  Second, the Patch a local COMMUNITY news organization. This story is breaking news for our community. If it doesn't interest you, don't read. If you are in need of more worldly or national news, may I suggest CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc. for your reading pleasure. - Bubba G
Susan June 01, 2012 at 09:58 PM
This should be reported on 1010 News and other NY news...seriously. I think all of us in the Tri State area deserve to know what happened and how our local kids were treated...how terrible for the kids, the chaperones, teachers, parent volunteers and even the cruise employees having to break the news. I don't have a child at Terrill Middle School, but I am glad that this story was posted and feel that the Cruise CEO Mike Burke's actions should not be taken lightly. Isn't there something on the news called "Shame, Shame, Shame On You"? This story certainly qualifies! Sorry to hear...
Emily Everson June 01, 2012 at 10:00 PM
UPDATE - this article has been updated to include Patch's evening interview with a representative from Statue Cruises.
CVG Rinaldi June 01, 2012 at 10:02 PM
It's local news that effected 240 of our children. I find it of interest. Certainly there are tragic things that deserve our attention but this does as well.
Susan June 01, 2012 at 10:09 PM
It's so interesting to read the responses that Statue Cruises is posting on their Facebook page. Their last response basically says that Terrill "chose" to leave and had they just waited 25 minutes more for the next boat, they wouldn't have been in this situation. While I understand there's some hefty duty damage control going on by Statue Cruises and it appears they are making amends to the Terrill School folks, they are still holding their ground as if Terrill should have "stuck it out"...shame on Statue Cruises.
ms June 01, 2012 at 10:34 PM
What I don't think Statue Cruises realizes is that the school could not wait another 25 minutes. The buses have strict time guidelines and are due back in Scotch Plains to start afternoon pickup at the various schools. Either way, they should not have had to wait at all. I commend the Terrill students on their behavior! After all, they are only in 5th grade!
Rich M. June 01, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Get a grip. This site is dedicated to local events, not what happens half way around the world. If you care so much about Sudan, and not about this community, go there and donate your time to improve that situation. Otherwise, shut up. Rich M
SP Resident June 01, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Pearl Harbor, - 9/11, - 5th graders trip gets cancelled (postponed). Tragic??? Really??? Seems like the kids handled it better than the adults - as ususal. If this is really about the "kids"...I'm sure they were happy to be out of school today. I'm sure they'll be happy to be out again on June 6th. It's a great "teachable moment" that things don't always go as planned & why it's important to "play fair"....let's not lower the flags to half staff over it.
bubba June 01, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Thanks for letting us know. Everyone should do this!
bubba June 01, 2012 at 11:18 PM
FYI...the NYC news Channel 2 was at the school. So expect more publicity.
Pat Bean June 01, 2012 at 11:19 PM
welcome to my life
4blanche4 June 02, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Waiting is not an option if it causes students to be returned to school late. To my knowledge, the permission slips include a preset span of time. Statue Cruises works regularly with schools which make reservations and contract buses. They should not feign to fault trip leaders for declining a 25 minute wait for the next boat. In my opinion, their excuse making is condescending and sets a bad example for students. The students should hear an apology, not we're sorry, but . . . The teachers, chaperones and students' response set a productive tone and defined good practices for handling a difficult and disappointing situation such as the one they experienced today. Having experienced very tight scheduling over the last year and a half, I completely understand that chaperones might have put in much effort to schedule time away from work so that they could support their child and their child's classmates through chaperoning. The inappropriate behavior of the students from the other group and their apparent lack of supervision, I believe ought to be addressed. Their school leadership ought to have knowledge of what occurred today and their students should be taught to not repeat their inappropriate behavior, even if it seemed to reward them this time around.
Fanwoody June 02, 2012 at 07:16 AM
I agree with SP Resident. Clearly everyone on this board is acting more obnoxious about this situation than the kids did. It happened. It seems like Statue Cruises is doing whatever they can to try and please you people for an unfortunate incident. No need to call all the news networks and try to ruin their business.
vik kirian June 02, 2012 at 12:50 PM
r u kidding me....its not about their business....its about what you teach all those kids on the boat about life and how they behaved
Reg Dunlop June 02, 2012 at 01:22 PM
OMG....someone call Arnold Diaz! Is it local news that should get reported...yes. Is it BREAKING NEWS that warrants an e-mail at 4:21 yesterday afternoon...ummm...NO! Perhaps it would have been better to let the story play out and report it. I'm betting it became more skewed as angry citizens who had just received the BREAKING NEWS alert flooded the phone lines and posted on the Statue Cruises Facebook page.
Marcia Zimmermann June 02, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Just a question to the 5th grade Park parents--Does Park run the same field trip? My kids have never done that trip?
Enough Already June 03, 2012 at 12:15 PM
I was thinking the same thing, Marcia. And does anyone know why our(Park) 8th graders didn't do the NBC your this year?
Enough Already June 03, 2012 at 12:16 PM
*tour*
Enough Already June 03, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Ooops, "tour" not your
Emily Everson June 03, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Good question, Marcia. I'll look into it. I'm a Park alum and I don't recall going on a field trip to Ellis Island however, that was eons ago.
Charlene M. June 03, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Off with their heads!
Susan June 04, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Does anyone know if the NY news ended up covering the story and if so, the link? I'd be curious why Park never did the trip to Ellis Island, too...what a great, educational trip for the kids! Hope it doesn't rain for their reschedule this week.
SP Resident June 04, 2012 at 09:40 PM
When my older kids were in Evergreen School, going to Ellis Island was the 5th grade trip. My youngest was in 5th grade the first year 5th grade moved to the middle school (2002 ?) and 5th graders at Park Middle DID NOT go on the Ellis Island trip that year (post 9/11 concerns - it was closed to visitors at that time I think ?)....but the trip was never reinstated at Park. I was rather suprised to hear that Terrill students WERE taking this trip when Park students were not...hmmmmm.....More "North & South" by the BOE???
SP mom June 04, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Oh come on, really?? The BOE has nothing to do with planning field trips for crying out loud! Teachers/supervisors and principals are responsible for organizing classroom trips. All 3 of my kids went to Terrill, and none have ever been to Ellis Island. Apparently, some staff at Terrill either remembered it being a great trip, or decided it was worthwhile and made the necessary plans!
ParkMom June 08, 2012 at 10:31 AM
My son went to Ellis Island when he was in 5th at Park a few years ago. It was a great trip. My daughter - who is at Park now - did not go on this trip. I think that is sad. My husband and I brought her on the trip on our own. It was a great family trip, but I feel Park should take the kids again.
Trevor June 09, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Terrill 6th graders also take a trip to the United Nations in New York as part of their Social Studies curriculum. I do not believe Park takes this trip either.

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