A New York boarding school for troubled teens that has ties to Utah has been ordered to refund more than $1 million to parents and stop misrepresenting itself, according to officials who Thursday announced the end of an 18-month investigation of the school.
The investigation by the New York Attorney General's Office concludes that the school — the Academy at Ivy Ridge — was "grossly misrepresenting its academic credentials."
The school had no authority to issue high school diplomas, yet since its opening in 2001, it awarded diplomas to 113 students, according to a statement from Eliot Spitzer, New York attorney general.
"The Academy at Ivy Ridge marketed itself to parents who were seeking a solution to their teens' behavior problems and who were willing to pay top dollar for the school's programs," Spitzer said in a statement. "What these parents did not know was that Ivy Ridge's educational programs had not been authorized or approved by the State Education Department."
The investigation also concluded that Ivy Ridge was not accredited, even though the school claimed it was accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools, based in Boise.
Ivy Ridge, located near the Canadian border, is affiliated with WWASPS or the World Wide Association of Speciality Schools, which is based in St. George and founded by Utah resident Robert Lichfield — a top contributor to the Republican party at local and national levels.
As a result of the New York state investigation that probed allegations of fraud and other abuses, Ivy Ridge will be required to issue a 15 percent refund of tuition to each of its 113 graduates. Similar refunds will be offered to about 100 current and former students.
Tuition at the school is about $50,000 per year.
Ken Kay, president of WWASPS, says the agreement between New York state and Ivy Ridge has no connection to the services WWASPS provides to the school.
WWASPS has affiliations with seven boarding schools for troubled teens — including a facility in Randolph and schools in La Verkin. Several programs, including facilities overseas, have come under scrutiny amid allegations of child abuse.
The investigation into Ivy Ridge was initiated after state police said a teenager was beaten while being transported to the school. New York State police said the transport service had ties to WWASPS, an allegation the organization has denied.
Said Kay: "It's not my place to get involved in specific negotiations. They have nothing to do with the World Wide Association and the services we provide."
"The World Wide Association doesn't deal directly with the kids," he said. "We're a service provider. What always surprises me is, of course, these allegations. . . .. There is nobody in this organization that thinks it's OK to abuse a child mentally or physically in any way."
A statement by Spitzer had no mention of investigations into alleged child abuse at Ivy Ridge. In recent years, several schools associated with WWASPS have been closed after such allegations.
In the 2005 legislative session, Utah lawmakers passed a bill instituting tighter controls over boarding schools.