A Purcellville couple are suing the Loudoun County School Board after their teenage son and his friend were stranded in New York City during a school-sponsored field trip over the summer.
Mark and Tracy Ippoliti last week filed a $100,000 lawsuit in Loudoun County Circuit Court. The couple filed a second lawsuit on behalf of their 16-year-old son seeking the same amount in damages. Both suits name the School Board and Park View teacher Larry Simms as defendants.
According to the lawsuits, the two teenagers were on a school trip July 29 when they separated from their group early in the afternoon and weren't missed by chaperons the rest of the day. The two wandered around the city for hours trying to track down their classmates, the suits say. They finally called police about 10:30 p.m.
"When you think what could have happened, it's more than frightening," Tracy Ippoliti said. "Those kids made very good decisions."
Simms could not be reached for comment. School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said that he has "taken appropriate action" and that the school system has a policy of accounting for each member of a group at each stop on a trip. He noted that Simms is an experienced teacher who has often taken students on outings with no problems. "It should not have occurred," Hatrick said.
The Ippolitis said their son and his friend traveled to New York City by bus with about 40 other students and went off together when the students split up to tour Ellis Island, the historic immigration entry point into the United States. When the pair returned to the ferry landing to rejoin the group at a prearranged 1:30 meeting, their classmates were gone, the lawsuit says.
Hatrick said that the teenagers were late returning to the ferry but that the teacher should not have left without them. The pair eventually took the ferry back to the mainland to catch up with their peers and found that the bus was gone, the lawsuit says.
The teenagers, who had about $100 between them, hopped a subway train, walked for a while and eventually hailed a cab to the Hard Rock Cafe, the next stop on the group's agenda, Tracy Ippoliti said. Once again, there was no sign of the group.
"These kids were just trying to find their way home," Ippoliti said. "They didn't eat. They did nothing but ride subways and cabs. They were just scared."
Later that night, the teenagers made collect calls from the Hard Rock but reached only answering machines, according to the lawsuits. Ippoliti said that although she wasn't home to answer the call, an operator allowed some of her son's message to be recorded.
"I heard her voice saying, 'There's no one home, we'll try again soon,' and I heard one of the boys say, 'We are really in trouble here,' " Ippoliti said. "We knew they should have been safely on a bus on their way back to Loudoun County."
Ippoliti said the other youth's father, Loudoun County sheriff's Lt. John Hickman, called New York City police and ensured that the two were safely at a police station. She said she and Hickman then drove to the city, arriving about 5 a.m. to pick up the pair.
"It's an unbelievable string of errors," she said.