Bethel Christian Academy Closes

November 3, 2008 11:58:08 PM PST
Parents, teachers and even the principal were surprised to learn the K through 12 program Bethel Christian Academy in Sanger is closing. "I get a letter just moments ago saying that the school is closed effective today." Parent Erica Ybarra was among those at the school on Monday, trying to get answers.Even the school's Principal, Colin Smallman couldn't help. He'd just been fired. He said,"Suddenly we received word today that the school is closed and the employees are terminated, they've been laid off." The shutdown does not affect the adjacent pre-school.

Smallman says the school has been having financial problems. His paychecks, and those of the schools 7 teachers have been bouncing regularly. Parents say kids never received textbooks, or curriculum guides, they paid for. Frustrated they petitioned the Pentecostal church leadership in Fresno. Ybarra says,"We appealed to them because we were concerned about some potential wrongdoing."

But, Ybarra says they got nowhere, and she feels the shutdown was revenge for their complaints. The school has been operating for five years. Thelma Sanchez' daughter has been a student here since it opened. "She's come to Bethel Christian since she was two. So I've invested five years in this school over 30 thousand dollars, and to me it's more about her education and what's going to become of, what's in the best interest of her." Sanchez said.

Some parents are accusing the church's Senior Pastor, Bob Barker of mismanaging the school's money. An accusation he denies. Barker says,"You know nothing's been wrong here we've just tried to love all the children and just tried to do our best with them. And I know a lot of people are hurt. We just want to do the best for the children. We just couldn't continue to do something we don'thave the money for."

But tensions were high on the church campus, and Sanger Police were called Monday night. Nobody was arrested. Parents, and children held a meeting in another nearby church to sing, pray and discuss their options. The bottom line is, 50 children now have no place to go to school. Erica Ybarra put it this way, "We have to tell our kids we don't have a school to take them to. I mean, two months into the school year. This is not okay."

Parents say they've tried to do the right thing, going through the church's chain of command, but now they are considering legal action to find out where their money went.

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