Bell Academy shuts down
A Terra Bella boarding school closed its doors over the weekend after coming out on the losing end of a five-month struggle with the California Department of Social Services.
"The reason we shut down Bell Academy is because they were operating as an unlicensed facility," said Andrew Roth, spokesperson for the state agency. School director Jade Robinson sounded disconsolate Thursday as he spoke by phone about having to close the school. "It's disappointing," he said. "We put in a lot of work here. It's a shame that the state wasn't willing to work with us."
Robinson said he opened the academy about one year ago with the intent of providing at-risk youth with an education, as well as life and leadership skills.
The school had about 24 students in April when state representatives paid a visit and determined that administrators were in violation of civil law.
Robinson argued that the academy wasn't required to have a license because it was a school.
State officials disagreed.
"Our analysts went out to the school and reached the conclusion that the kind of things they were offering did indeed more closely resemble a group home," Roth said.
Group homes cannot operate without a state-approved license.
Robinson said he showed state officials that the school was certified with the California Department of Education, but they refused to change their position.
"We asked them what is it we need to change, but they were unwilling to tell us," he said. "That's the thing that was frustrating."
Robinson appealed the decision, but his appeal was denied last week by Superior Court Judge Patrick O'Hara, who sided with the state.
Robinson said the school was facing $200-per-day fines for each day it operated without a license, so he was left with no option but to shut it down.
And that's a shame, said Kitty Melicia, who credits the school with teaching her daughter leadership skills.
"The staff was excellent. They worked miracles," Melicia said. "My daughter graduated when she was 15 and is now attending Monterey Peninsula Community College."
Robinson said he is not certain where his former students now attend school. That decision is up to their parents, he said.
State officials say that Robinson still has the option of applying for a license.
"If he wants to go through the licensing procedure, we'll be more than happy to help him do that," Roth said.
Henry Winckel can be reached at 784-5000 ext. 1043 or Henry_Winckel@link.freedom.com