DENVER, (KDVR) — It was May 3, 2003 when Sheena Holguin gathered with dozens of classmates at the Heather Ridge Country Club in Aurora. Donning a white cap and gown, she proudly walked across the stage, receiving her diploma from Colorado State High School.
“It was a big deal for me because I worked really hard for that,” says Holguin. “I graduated 2 years late, but I graduated.”
Like many of her classmates, Holguin had ended up at Colorado State High School after struggling to succeed in traditional classrooms.
Her parents saw a flyer for the school and took a chance, enrolling her for $400 a month.
“I had a rough time in public school,” she says. “It wasn’t the scene for me, like a lot of other kids.”
At the time, Holguin says the school was on the third floor of a downtown building. After just a few months and a few classes, Holguin says she was told she was ready to graduate.
“It seemed legit and down to the book. Everything — the testing, the scoring, you have to have this percentage to graduate.”
Holguin says it wasn’t until this year, while applying for school, that she realized something was questionable.
“Seventeen years later, I was getting to ready to start school for cosmetology, and I was trying to track down my credits,” she says. “And that’s what sort of brought all of this on.”
Holguin says she has been unable to track down her credits, and she’s not alone.
“We have a lot of people that have tried to 9get0 into school and now they can’t because they’re not accredited transcripts all of a sudden,” she said.
“To come around and find out it’s just a paper that’s worthless, there’s no words for it,” says Alicia Welch.
Welch graduated in November 2003, again, after attending CSHS for just a few months.
“I just couldn’t believe it, to hear these people scammed all of us, all these kids, and took all of that money, it’s heartbreaking,” she says.
“I don’t think it’s widespread, but I think it happens more often than people think,” says Alan Smiley.
Smiley is the executive director for the Colorado Association of Independent Schools, which oversees accreditation for most of the state’s private schools.
“It provides an assurance for parents and students that the school that they’re coming to has been properly vetted,” says Smiley.
He says CSHS was never accredited through his agency.
The Problem Solvers did find a flyer for the school, claiming it was accredited by NAPS, a national agency that deals with private Christian schools.
Executive Director Marvin Reynolds says the school was briefly accredited in 2004, but ultimately removed from accreditation because it didn’t meet their standards.
He declined to elaborate on why, and declined an interview.
There’s no record the school was accredited by anyone in 2003, when Holguin and Welch graduated.
“Now, being told that we’re on a national ‘do not accept’ list, like that’s really disheartening,” says Holguin.
Smiley says most reputable colleges and universities won’t accept students from non-accredited private schools.
That includes Metropolitan State University of Denver, which sent the following statement to FOX31:
“We do not accept students who have attended this school due to it lacking the appropriate accreditation. When we encounter students who have graduated from this school, we let them know we unfortunately can’t admit them. However, we offer a few options that would allow them to enroll at MSU Denver: 1) Either they complete a GED or 2) attend a community college and successfully complete at least 24 credits. If they do one of these two things, then they can be admitted.“
Holguin and Welch, now in their late 30s, say it’s a devastating answer.
“I could care less about the money. I just want someone to come forward and say, ‘Hey, we swept this under the rug. I’m so sorry for doing this to you, you deserve better,'” says Welch.
Records show the owner of the school, Roy Stock, died in 2014.
The Problem Solvers reached his wife Donna, a former administrator at the school, at their north Denver home. She was unable to verify who the school was accredited by, closing the door without answering additional questions.
Holguin plans to continue fighting for a legitimate diploma.
“For me, it’s like, ‘OK, we’re going to take this head-on, and we’re going to find out why,'” she says. “And somebody’s going to answer to this and they’re going to fix this, because now I can’t start school.”
Smiley says it’s a lesson for parents planning on enrolling their students in private schools.
“Most quality institutions should have information on their website about who they are accredited by,” he says. “If you visit an institution to look at it as an option, ask questions. Are you accredited? By whom? How long have you been accredited?”
The state’s Department of Education recently added this to their disclaimer about private schools:
“Recently, our office has received inquiries related to “Colorado State High School.” Colorado State High School was a private school in Denver that closed. Following the closure, some alumni have reported being unable to get access to their transcripts. Because CDE and the local school district (Denver Public Schools) do not have jurisdiction over private school operations, we also are not the custodian of school records – including transcripts – for this school.
In general, when considering private schools, because they operate as a private business outside of the oversight of CDE or their geographic school district, we recommend that parents ask schools about what the school plans are for record retention in the event that the organization closes or reconstitutes.“