One School, Two Families, Different Results
American Heritage Academy returned prepaid tuition funds to one parent. The outcome was not the same for another.
"During the week following June 19th," Scott Parrish wrote, "AHA will return prepaid tuitions to the appropriate people."
After revelations in March of multimillion dollar debt, an April 5 foreclosure and a reorganization that decimated the high school division of the secular private school, the 2010-11 school year was the last for a number of American Heritage families.
Parrish outlined the steps that they needed to take to receive reimbursement.
Parents Lana Muoio and Lisa MacMahan did what they were told.
So why did MacMahan get a check and Muoio didn't?
Muoio said she's still waiting on an answer.
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In March, just days before families learned that the school would be advertised for foreclosure, Muoio put down a $500 deposit for her daughter, which was to be applied toward the rising second grader's 2011-12 tuition. MacMahan paid all of next school year’s tuition, about $14,800, for her son.
MacMahan had to find another school for her child, a rising senior. Muoio simply felt American Heritage wouldn't be the same. In addition to a new location, the letter indicated that grade levels would be combined.
"The school will be different and my deposit was for a different school," she said. "Prior to the changes, we had no issue and were definitely going to go back."
By the time school ended on June 3, Muoio had an oustanding balance: $327.93 for after-school program costs.
Five days later, she emailed American Heritage's business office to satisfy the debt. Once paid, she asked when she could expect her $500 deposit.
On June 24, Muoio said she received this message from a business office employee who identified himself as Lane Sims:
"I processed your request to your credit card last night for $327.93," he said. "The deposit is non-refundable, but the Board is reviewing to make a decision to refund at a later date. Thanks."
According to MacMahan, the school contract indicates that the $500 deposit is non-refundable if parents choose not to return to American Heritage.
Muoio wrote the school’s development director, Parvis Nikkhoo.
"Why would a deposit for 2011-2012 be different than pre-paid tuition," she asked. "Deposits and/or pre-paid tuition was intended to secure a spot for the upcoming school year. This is outrageous in light of all the events that has transpired. I have paid my tuition as instructed and now to find out that deposit for a school that no longer exists is extremely unfair. I will be contacting my attorney, this is horrible how the parents who have followed the rules are being treated."
She received no response and made subsequent attempts to reach Nikkhoo and Parrish.
"I finally spoke to Mr. Sims and he wouldn't give me any contact info for Dr. Nikkhoo or Scott Parrish,” Muoio said.
"It seems odd. I could understand if I hadn’t paid my bills. I’m a parent who has paid all they have asked so I don’t understand. Nothing is outstanding."
Asked if he could provide information on the progress of the tuition refunds, Sims said: "No ma'am. I just work here. I'm just answering phones."
He referred all questions to Nikkhoo, who has ignored numerous messages from Patch since a brief video interview on the day American Heritage was advertised for foreclosure.
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MacMahan has had a different experience. Her family received a letter from Sims the week of June 16. The letter directed her family to schedule an appointment to pick up her son's records and her refund.
While MacMahan said it took several days to reach Sims and schedule that meeting, she was immediately given the full amount she paid in March.
"We took their check right to their bank and got a cashier’s check to deposit into our own bank," she said.
MacMahan said she knows of three other families from her son's class who got back their prepaid tuition payments.
And recently, two suits against American Heritage were dismissed.
Marietta attorney S. Lee Storesund previously told Canton-Sixes Patch that his clients, parents Caran Smith and Audra Gillis, would drop their suits if the private school returned their prepaid tuition funds.
• • •
Next month, MacMahan's son will start his senior year at Creekview High. Muoio's daughter is headed to Cherokee Charter Academy, which just received state approval.
Both women said their children had positive experiences at American Heritage.
"Until all of this started,” Muoio said.
MacMahan said the community was close-knit, like a family. She looked forward to seeing her son walk across the stage next spring with the classmates he's known for years.
“I’m saddened," MacMahan said, "that the school won’t be open for my son’s senior year."