A West Philadelphia Christian Academy diploma program shut down last week, after scrutiny over its issuance of 'one-day' diplomas to 80 out-of-state youth in foster care.
According to a report from The Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore City Department of Social Services used $40,000 in taxpayer dollars to cover the costs of a testing fee and transportation for 80 foster care youth to travel from Baltimore, Md. to the Crooked Places Made Straight Christian Academy in West Philadelphia where, in one day, the youth were awarded high school diplomas after passing a GED-like exam.
Several Baltimore-area officials questioned the use of taxpayer dollars to pay the Crooked Places testing fee of $500 per student, which is more than triple the cost of the nationally recognized General Education Development (GED) certificate. Others questioned the validity of the diplomas since the students were not required to complete any coursework prior to taking the exam.
The school’s principal, Winona Stewart, says she didn’t know she was doing anything wrong.
"I was under the impression that if they took a test and passed it at a 12th grade level, they could have the diplomas. I was just trying to help people, that’s all; I wasn’t trying to do nothing slick," Stewart said.
Stewart shut down the program last week, after The Baltimore Sun reached out to the school's accrediting body, the National Association of Private Schools (NAPS), questioning the one-day diplomas.
According to the NAPS web site, all of its member schools must provide instruction equivalent to two semesters of a school year before issuing diplomas to students. In addition, NAPS member schools are not allowed to issue credit for tests taken apart from actual completion of credible coursework.
Last week, Executive director of the NAPS Marvin Reynolds told The Baltimore Sun that he was “saddened” by the school’s deviation from the requirements.
“We will not accredit a diploma mill,” Reynolds told the Baltimore Sun. “Otherwise our credibility would go out the window. We do not encourage schools to do that. It's just not the way things are supposed to be done.”
Today, Reynolds referred to Stewart’s issuance of one-day diplomas as a misunderstanding that the NAPS and the Crooked Places staff are working together to correct.
"The particular program she was using was falling short of the requirements,” Reynolds said. “They’re in the process of correcting that. She’s definitely wanting to do everything proper, so we’re working with her. We have the assurance that they’re going to get this mended."
Even though they did not complete the required coursework, Reynolds said diplomas issued to the 80 Baltimore youth who passed the exam will not be invalidated.
Despite criticism, Stewart cited the program as a success prior to its being shut down, and told the Baltimore Sun that she’s hopeful that the program will reopen someday.
"Maybe one day God will bless me to restart the program," she told The Baltimore Sun. "It’s a shame that you got people who are so brilliant, and they just need to go to the next level. But maybe I can do it again, and do it the right way."
Reynolds did not confirm when the school would be cleared to begin issuing diplomas again.