Operators of the Fort Worth-based Advent Harvest Academy Corp. have agreed to stop running what state officials called a diploma mill.
This month, Mike Martin of Benbrook and Teri Lynn Tout-Dennis of North Richland Hills reached an agreement with the Texas attorney general's office to stop issuing high school diplomas or equivalency certifications through their online high schools called Sunrise, Longhorn and Bluebonnet. The two did not admit any wrongdoing but must pay $40,000 in fines and court costs, according to the agreement.
Martin and Tout-Dennis could not be reached for comment.
Martin, executive director of the schools, has denied running a diploma mill. He said Advent offered students an alternative through the state's home-school laws and, therefore, was exempt from state regulations.
But state officials say Advent's actions violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by insinuating that its diplomas were sanctioned by the state when, in fact, they were worthless.
"It was totally unaccredited in any way and not through any agency," said Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the attorney general's office. "They've got to have some way to be accredited to offer these diplomas. Some students had been taking advantage of that."
But some students feel that they were the ones being taken advantage of and are disappointed that restitution wasn't part of the agreement. A student would pay about $225 for a diploma, state officials have said.
Briana Morris of New Orleans said she received a diploma from Advent after taking a test online. But when applying to a community college, her diploma was not accepted.
"I can't put my high school diploma on job applications now because it's no good," Morris said. "It's going to be a huge pain. I was just going back to school, and I have to take care of my girls. Now I have to get a GED as well."
Kelley said restitution was not part of the agreement because students bear some personal responsibility for using Advent.
The permanent injunction against the operators prohibits them from issuing a diploma unless it is through a school that meets state education codes. The two must inform the attorney general's office of any further employment or business activities.
Should an education institution hire either Martin or Tout-Davis, they must notify the institution of the injunction against them.
Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700