Failing students trying to recoup high school credits don't need to turn to fly-by-night home school scams for assistance, but authorities can help eliminate the temptation to do so by pursuing all legal remedies against a Zephyrhills outfit accused of issuing bogus diplomas.
CHS Inc. High School (Does the C stand for counterfeit?) is under scrutiny from the Pasco Sheriff's Office after producing a replica high school diploma for a student who later learned she did not qualify as a graduate and was ineligible for admittance to a vocational program. It might come across as a cruel joke except at least two families said they paid more than a combined $1,600 for the home schooling that preceded the diplomas they believed to be authentic. That changes the case from suspected forgery to accusations of fraud and grand theft.
The diploma identifies the principal as Nina G.S. Duffield whose Country Home School Inc. has been inactive since 2006, according to state records. The parents said Duffield accepted their money, required only a few months of work, became unavailable to conference and eventually issued diplomas that include the state seal, a cross, and cribbed signatures from superintendent Kurt Browning and former School Board Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong.
The actions are indefensible. CHS Inc. preyed on desperate adults trying to nudge under-performing children toward a better education and brighter career opportunities. Instead, the families are left with worthless paper and children academically unqualified for secondary education.
Diploma mills usually conjure up images of emailed advertisements for advanced degrees from unaccredited institutions in exchange for cash, correspondence courses and credits for real-life experience. In those cases, the degree purchaser most often is a willing participant well aware of the lax academic standards behind the post-graduate degrees. Dipping into the high school audience is rare, but not unheard of completely. The New York Times exposed a Miami group called University High School in 2005 as a diploma mill for floundering high schoolers with ambitions to play collegiate football. Locally, a school called Associated Medical Arts Institute in Zephyrhills peddled bogus medical assistant certificates amid the welfare-to-work push in 2001 and snookered two work force groups out of $170,000.
Parents and students don't need to rely on such dubious programs in seeking alternative ways to obtain high school diplomas. New this year, the Pasco School District offers an 18-credit high school diploma to students who don't plan to continue their education in college. (A traditional diploma is 24 credits). Also, students — depending on their age and academic history — can enroll in adult education or online classes, use existing credit-recovery programs, or obtain a high school equivalency diploma known as a GED.
Meanwhile, law enforcement officials need to hold the parties behind CHS Inc. High School accountable for the ruse that, in the words of one parent, took money from children and then crushed their dreams. Indeed.