A Texas court has granted a temporary restraining order against two individuals that operated three Internet-based "home schools."
According to an enforcement action brought by the Texas Attorney General's Office, the defendants unlawfully marketed and sold fraudulent high school diplomas.
The state is seeking court-ordered restitution for customers who paid the defendants $225 to enroll in their program, take their "tests" and obtain their purported diplomas. The court ordered a temporary injunction hearing for 2 p.m. on Nov. 4.
The five unaccredited "diploma mill" defendants operate under a holding company called Advent Harvest Academy Corp. The "schools" named in the enforcement action are Sunrise Private High School, Longhorn Private High School and Bluebonnet Private High School. Defendants Teri Tout-Dennis and Mike Martin serve as director of education and executive school director, respectively.
"As the State of Texas strives to improve educational opportunities for all our children, it is intolerable to find unscrupulous individuals who would offer anyone with Internet access the ability to receive a diploma without the prerequisite studies," Attorney General Greg Abbott said. "This is a grave disservice to youngsters who later in life will come to realize they were exploited for their money and gained nothing in return."
According to state investigators, Advent Harvest Academy Corp. and its schools imposed no educational requirements. The schools required no age verification or identification; likewise, no instruction program or compulsory student "attendance" is mandated. Students simply pay $225 in advance via a credit card and then take an unaccredited "test."
Students are instructed to fax the test to the defendants who then "grade" it and respond with fraudulent academic diplomas through the mail, including "transcripts" containing credit hours based on the test results.
The defendants' so-called schools are registered with the Texas Secretary of State as domestic for-profit corporations and use the corporate number issued by that agency as their "school ID number" on diplomas. The numerical identification reflects an attempt to confer an air of legitimacy to the appearance of the diplomas., Abbott said.
The schools further attempt to make their fraudulent diplomas look legitimate by unlawfully superimposing a State of Texas seal onto the document. In an effort to avoid questions about state oversight, the defendants falsely told customers that they are not required to meet state licensing standards because they meet the "home school" exemption.
The schools have never been accredited by the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools or the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission, Abbott charged.