Zephyrhills, FL -- Is it a case of shaky shingles in Pasco County?
An out-of-business private school is accused of issuing bogus diplomas to students who thought they were earning their GED, and now the Pasco Sheriff's Office is investigating.
"It was just a devastating blow to all of us," saidSherri Phillips.
Phillips'two daughters are among a handful of young people who received what they thought was a diploma from Country Home School Inc. which operates out of a private home off Simons Rd. in Zephyrhills.
But it turns out, says Phillips, "her business had actually closed for some time and the signed documents were not real."
"Well, there is some truth to that," admitted the school's owner, Nina Duffield although she says it's alla misunderstanding.
Duffieldsays she didn't realize her business license had lapsed after a fire.
She says the grades are all good, but the class coding system is different at State schools and private institutions like the one to which Phillips' daughter Candice had applied. Duffieldsays she has Candice's and the other students' transcripts, and that theyare ready to go.
"I am working very hard to see that the diplomas are honored because of the transcripts and the work that students put it in behind them. I truly thought I was helping," she said.
"I'm wondering where in the world are they getting the signatures from," saidPasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning.
Browning says he never authorized Duffueld to use his signature or that of the former SchoolBoard chair.
The whole thing was brought to his attention, he says,after Candice tried using the diploma to apply to the Art Institute of Tampa. That's when she was told the diplomawas a fake.
"To me it looks very fraudulent," said Browning, who reminds the public that only the school district is authorized to issue diplomas.
Phillips says she grew skeptical when CHS told Candice she would be issued her diploma more than a year ahead of schedule, even though she had only put in about 6 hours a week.
Duffield, she says, also declined to share Candice's test results.
Now Phillips isout around $1,300, andher daughter Candice is left without a degree.
"The diploma's important and she doesn't have that now," said Phillips.
Duffield says she's trying to set up a meeting with the superintendent to explain what she calls a misunderstanding.
But the Pasco Sheriff's Office says it's investigatingthe allegedfraud.
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