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Boise accreditation firm questioned

Agency sets standard for some 200 schools in Utah

Trouble in New York has spread problems to Boise, the headquarters of a regional accreditation association that sets standards for 1,700 schools, including more than 200 in Utah.

The trouble raises questions over the ability of the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools to apply its own rules to schools and follow licensing mandates in other states where it accredits schools.

It started when New York officials called into question adherence to state licensing and other regulatory requirements by the Academy at Ivy Ridge, a school for troubled youths affiliated with Utah-based World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools.

The probe by the New York Attorney General's Office, which includes a subpoena for records related to the issuance of diplomas, led Northwest to suspend Ivy Ridge's accreditation earlier this month.

Northwest, the accrediting entity ensuring schools are up to certain standards, is headquartered in Boise and accredits schools in several Western states, including Utah.

Continuing questions by New York investigators over the circumstances regarding Ivy Ridge's accreditation and its ability to operate as a school led an umbrella accreditation agency to sever its ties with Northwest this month — at least temporarily.

In an order issued by the executive committee of the Commission on International and Trans-Regional Accreditation, Northwest was informed its affiliation was suspended immediately this month as a result of issues raised by other regional accreditation associations stemming from the controversy at Ivy Ridge.

The letter was sent to Northwest's executive director and its president and informs them of a board of directors meeting May 24, when additional action could be taken.

Randy Sinisi, associate executive director of the international commission (CITA) confirmed suspension had been taken against Northwest, but said the regional association is being given time to state its case for the May meeting.

Northwest's associate director Leonard Paul said the action does not affect the ability of the association to continue to accredit schools in the Western states area and does not jeopardize the standings of any school it previously accredited.

Membership in CITA is voluntary and is more of a professional affiliation than anything, he added.

"It doesn't mean anything to Utah schools or any of the other schools we accredit," he said. "They have no governance authority over us at all."

Rather, the international organization, in which six regional associations participate, is an opportunity for "idea sharing" and to develop uniformity in accreditation protocols, he said.

But it is questions over Northwest's ability to follow those protocols that has led CITA to distance itself from the association, especially in light of the probe into the regulations that were followed — or not — regarding the licensing of Ivy Ridge.

Paul said the flap in New York between Ivy Ridge and the Attorney General's Office has unfortunately spilled over to Northwest.

"We have told (Ivy Ridge) to supply us with all the copies of their licenses and certificates," he said. "We have followed our own policies. The proof is in the fact that we are requiring those materials."

The New York investigation, however, is looking at a time line of when Ivy Ridge began claiming it was accredited, the type of diplomas it claimed to offer and if the school followed state licensing mandates.

The investigation took an academic turn after Ivy Ridge first caught the eye of officials last year after a male teenager being transported to the school said he was beaten while handcuffed.

Two men, contracted by another Utah company called Teen Escort, were found guilty of misdemeanor harassment. The unusual nature of the transport to the school near the Canadian border — the boy was awakened at night and escorted to the car in his underwear — raised questions about Ivy Ridge, its Utah affiliate, WWASPS, and the nature of what goes on in the school.

WWASPS has been the object of multiple allegations of abuse and neglect at its facilities throughout the United States, including its affiliate in Randolph, Utah, called Majestic Ranch, and Spring Creek Lodge in Montana. A report by a New York newspaper says Ivy Ridge is being investigated by the state Office of Children and Family Services, with investigators conducting an unannounced visit to the campus, which is near the Canadian border.

In Mexico, a WWASPS affiliated program Casa By the Sea was closed last year amid allegations of abuse. Other facilities have been the site of riots.

WWASPS denies the allegations of abuse, saying they are stories concocted by disgruntled students with behavioral problems.