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Parents To Sue Private School in Dade That Was Not Accredited

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A group of parents plans to file a suit against a Dade County, Fla., private school, arguing that their children's diplomas were essentially rendered worthless by the school's failure to seek accreditation.

Just a few weeks before graduation, the 26 members of the Francisco Baldor School's first graduating class began receiving letters from colleges stating that because the school was unaccredited, they could not accept their applications.

Allan Cohen, a lawyer representing about 20 parents, said: "They're fed up; they've had enough. And the kids are really all a wreck, there's no prom, they're not going to any graduation ceremonies.''

The state of Florida does not accredit or regulate private schools, said Brenda Parks, an education-information-services specialist at the state education department. However, 85 percent of the state's private schools opt to seek accreditation through one of 10 agencies that belong to the Florida Association of Academic Nonpublic Schools. There are 32 independent entities that accredit private schools in Florida, Ms. Parks said.

Kiki Marcy, the mother of Lissette Portuondo, a senior at the Baldor School, said she is angry that her daughter is having trouble getting into college.

"When I enrolled my daughter into the school, that was my question: Are you accredited?'' she said. "Their answer is 'Yes, we are,' so I believed them. I didn't check it any further, which I now regret.''

An 'Inherited' Problem

Ricardo J. Nunez, a lawyer for the school's owners, Ana and Julio Capo, said the couple "basically inherited the situation'' when they bought the school last September.

"Since the state of Florida does not require accreditation, the new owners didn't even look into that as an issue when they purchased the school,'' Mr. Nunez said.

The 20-year-old private school opened its high school about a year and a half ago. Before then, it served only grades K-8. The school enrolls about 300 students, and its annual tuition is $2,300.

Of the 26 seniors, six have already been accepted at either Miami-Dade Community College or Florida International University, Mr. Nunez said.

"The ones that have applied and been rejected have been rejected for several reasons, and it would be unfair to cite lack of school accreditation as the only reason,'' he said.

But Miami-Dade, for example, will ask Baldor students to pass the General Educational Development test or meet other requirements.

"You didn't spend all this money for a G.E.D.,'' said Ms. Marcy, one of the parents who are planning to sue. "You can go to a public school and get it for free.''

With "many new schools springing up,'' said Barbara F. Stock, the executive vice president of the Washington-based National Association of Independent Schools, colleges view accreditation as "a way of knowing the kind of work that's being done in the school and the quality of the school.''

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