Parents seeking to recover tuition paid in advance from a now defunct foreign language immersion school will have to turn to court after the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office determined the issue was a civil, not criminal, matter.
It’s something the eight families, who are out a total of about $30,000, intend to do, said Emily Jensen, one of the parents who filed a complaint against Christina Crumbley, who directed the former One World Academy in south Forsyth.
Crumbley announced July 3 that the academy would not reopen for the coming school year.
“We’re out over $1,200,” Jensen said. “She cashed our tuition check two weeks before she made the notice of shutting the school down, so we’re just trying however we can to get our money back.”
However, because the complaints were about Crumbley and not the academy to which parents paid tuition, sheriff’s office spokesman Doug Rainwater said it’s not a criminal case.
“The corporation itself failed to live up to the promise as a business, so that makes it a civil case,” Rainwater said. “It falls back on the company itself, not the individual.”
For her part, Crumbley denies that she’s involved in the matter personally, contending instead that the parents’ complaints against her are “unfounded.”
That’s not how parent Craig Troy sees it. Troy, who paid more than $6,000 in tuition for his daughter to attend the school for the 2013-14 year, said he’s convinced there was criminal intent by Crumbley.
“The feeling right now among the parents is [the sheriff’s office] didn’t do a very thorough investigation,” he said adding that the group is gathering more evidence.
“It certainly appears to me that you can’t close down an entire business in a decision that you make in one day. She said she had been agonizing for weeks over the decision ... and yet never said anything to anybody and had been receiving the tuition checks.”
Rainwater did not rule out the possibility of further investigation if additional evidence warranted.
In the meantime, the 2013-14 school year is scheduled to start next week in Forsyth County. Unable to return to One World Academy, families have had to scramble to find schools for their children.
“Other parents have kind of spread out to where they could find something,” said Jensen, who found a private school for her two children.
The tuition twist is the latest in a series of financial and legal issues that have followed foreign language schools Crumbley operated and/or owned over the past several years.
Those involve several locations and academies, as well as name changes for Crumbley, who court documents and some parents’ complaints show has also gone by the last names Bunker and Bunker-Wittell and the first name Tina.
Crumbley’s experience as a language academy director appear to date back to 2004, when under the name Christina Bunker she launched Language Discovery Academy Inc.
About six years later, the academy dissolved, having not paid about $43,000 in rent to Sharon Promenade LLC. In 2010, Forsyth County State Court Judge Russell McClelland ordered the school to pay back the money plus 10 percent interest.
Before that lawsuit was even filed, Bunker had entered a lease off Peachtree Parkway for another company, the North Atlanta International Academy, in July 2008.
In a 2012 Forsyth County News article about North Atlanta International Academy, Crumbley — who was then known as Christina Bunker — touted the advantages of being multi-lingual, including information retention, cognitive benefits and advancing intellectual growth.
She said she was raised bilingual in Belgium and noted that each of the school’s 70 students took as many as three of the five languages offered, including French, German, Mandarin.
In April of this year, North Atlanta International Academy suddenly closed and reopened after spring break at a new location and under a new name, One World Academy.
“We moved to the new location over spring break,” said Jensen, who sent her two children there. “We started there as soon as we came back from spring break.
“We were just really happy with the language and the culture that our kids were learning there and the content of the things they were studying.”
In hindsight, Jensen said the location and name change from North Atlanta International to One World seem suspect. At the time, however, Crumbley had a seemingly reasonable explanation for the sudden change.
“We were told that the prior building had gone into foreclosure and she was having trouble ... with the bank not accepting her payments,” Jensen said. “And she was afraid they were just going to go close the doors on us one day and that we’d show up one day with no place to go.”
Jensen said the name change also made sense, as Crumbley was at that time part of a 10-member board working to open the International Charter School of Atlanta in Forsyth County.
Jensen said the name change would have avoided similar sounding names to Crumbley’s then North Atlanta International Academy.
While the charter school remains in the application process, Crumbley has said she severed ties with the group, about the same time she made the decision to shutter what had become known as One World Academy.
Despite its demise, it appears One World had been operating without the state’s permission between when the students returned from spring break in April to the last day of the school year in May.
The move required a new license from the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.
Reg Griffin, a spokesman for the department, said the license Crumbley applied for April 10 was never approved before the request was withdrawn the first week in July. Without a license, Griffin said, it’s illegal to operate a facility.
Even if the curriculum and student makeup is the same, Griffin said a license is needed when there’s a relocation, because “so much of what we’re inspecting is based on the facility itself and what’s going on there.”
“We kind of start all over again,” he said.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, North Atlanta International Academy lists Christina Bunker as its CEO, CFO and secretary of the corporation. The academy had already closed prior to a June decision on a lawsuit against it.
The suit was filed by Georgia Commerce Bank, the owner of the property where the school was located.
Forsyth County State Court Judge Leslie Abernathy-Maddox ruled against the school, ordering it to pay nearly $81,000 in unpaid lease and late fees, plus more than $12,000 in attorney fees.
According to Steven J. Rosenwasser, attorney for the bank, the academy has yet to pay that money back.
“We are still continuing our discovery and investigation,” he said of the bank’s efforts to collect.
As for the parents, Jensen said they’re going to actively seek refunds for their tuition money, which ranged from $689 to nearly $15,300, according to sheriff’s reports.
“Most parents are prepared to take her to court to get it back,” Jensen said.