January 23, 2014

Private school shuts doors, officials silent on why

By Christopher Smith

— Tuesday morning, as Pat Hambright was getting her son Hunter ready for his fourth-grade class at Cedar Valley Christian Academy, she got a call telling her “devastating news.”

The private K-12 Christian school, operated inside the Cedar Valley Cathedral of Praise on Cleveland Highway, had closed its doors Tuesday without any advance notice to parents, Hambright said. About 30 students were enrolled at the academy, one of a handful of accredited church-based schools in the area.

“We are just scratching our heads trying to figure all this out and what to do,” Hambright said. “We’re reeling from the news.”

A reason for the closing, Hambright said, was never given to her.

Trish Francis, the secretary of the school who said she acted as principal, said that’s not true.

“We explained to the parents the reasons for the school closing,” she said.

Francis declined further comment.

One church official, who asked not to be named due to concerns over “blowback,” said the reason for closing the school was poor finances. The official claimed the number of students had decreased and some parents weren’t paying tuition on time, but declined to give exact numbers.

Several phone messages over several days left for the Rev. Clayton Brown, the church pastor who founded the school approximately 30 years ago, and Tommy Bryant Sr., the chief financial officer for the church, were not returned.

Hambright said she paid $150 monthly for Hunter’s tuition and is working on getting a prorated refund for the remainder of the month. She said she doesn’t know if she’ll get her money back.

“I’m not sure what payment is like for everyone else,” she said. “Some people may have paid for the full school year. I don’t know.”

Asked how the church plans to handle refunds, Francis refused to give specifics.

“I don’t want any of my comments or my name in the paper,” she said before hanging up on a reporter on Thursday.

The lack of communication has Hambright upset.

“They (church officials) have left us hanging,” she said. “They’ve left everyone hanging — student and teacher. My son was not the only one who woke up without a school to go to. You had all those kids scrambling to find alternative schools with no notice. Not a week’s notice, not two week’s notice, not a month’s notice. Nothing.”

For now, Hambright said she’s trying to get paperwork finished to homeschool her son for at least the remainder of the school year. That decision comes with a lot of grief.

“The school itself was fantastic,” she said. “I could not praise that school enough. It had small classrooms, one-on-one attention. The teachers were awesome.”

Hunter has already missed a week’s worth of school, Hambright added.