School's out for Texas diploma mill

Diploma mill shut down.Three online "home school" diploma mills have been shut down by the Texas Attorney General for illegally marketing and selling fake high school diplomas for $225 a pop.

A temporary restraining order was issued against Teri Tout-Dennis and Mike Martin, who serve as director of education and executive school director, respectively, of a holding company called Advent Harvest Academy Corp., which operates three online "home schools."

The schools named in the attorney general's lawsuit include Sunrise Private High School, Longhorn Private High School and Bluebonnet Private High School. Texas is seeking court-ordered restitution for customers who paid the defendants $225 to enroll in their program, take their "tests" and receive their worthless diplomas.

"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 in a statement. "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. – which is an accredited member of the Better Business Bureau with a "B" rating – and its schools impose no educational requirements whatsoever. The online schools require neither age verification, identification, completion of a curriculum or even "attendance."

Students simply plunked down $225 in advance via credit card and took an unaccredited exam that features multiple choice problems on topics such as Jerry Seinfeld and "fill in the blank" questions such as this one: "There was an old woman who ______ in a shoe." See for yourself.

Once prospective graduates returned their completed exams, the defendants graded them and mailed back fake diplomas as well as "transcripts" containing credit hours based on the test results.

The defendants' "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 in an attempt to impart a stamp of legitimacy upon the phony documents.

The schools also attempted to make their fraudulent diplomas appear legitimate by unlawfully superimposing a State of Texas seal onto the document. In an effort to avoid questions about state oversight, the defendants lied to customers by telling them they weren't required to meet state licensing standards because they met the "home school" exemption.

Neither the Sunrise Private High School, Longhorn Private High School or Bluebonnet Private High School have ever been accredited by the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools or the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission.

The attorney general's office is seeking court-ordered penalties from the defendants for numerous violations of the Texas Education Code, the Texas Business and Commerce Code and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The state is also seeking restitution for students who purchased the worthless diplomas.

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