A mom chose an off-the-grid school for safety from COVID. No one protected her kid from the teacher

Nov 28, 2023, 9:06 PM

The front awning hangs from the dilapidated unapproved school named Second Chance Academy, in Baton...

The front awning hangs from the dilapidated unapproved school named Second Chance Academy, in Baton Rouge, La., June 19, 2023. The school has come under scrutiny since its head teacher was arrested on charges of sexually abusing students. (Charles Lussier/The Advocate via AP)

(Charles Lussier/The Advocate via AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — When Raynesha Cummings enrolled her three teenagers in a private school, she hoped to keep them safe from COVID-19. It was small, with no frills — there was just one teacher and the school didn’t serve lunch — but it worked for her family, at least initially.

Her son graduated in May at the top of his class, with hopes of attending a trade school. But when he started applying, schools said they would not recognize his diploma.

Then, a couple weeks later, Cummings says she discovered the teacher had been texting her 16-year-old daughter to offer money for sexually explicit photos. The teacher was arrested, and Cummings learned he previously had been accused of raping a child.

Cummings didn’t know it when her kids started at Second Chance Academy, but the school had no accreditation, no approval from the state and no one supervising the teacher she left her kids with every day.

“If I had known that, I would never pay my money for them to go there,” Cummings said. “I really feel like I made a big mistake.”

Second Chance falls into a category of off-the-grid schools in Louisiana that operate with hardly any oversight. Formally known as “nonpublic schools not seeking state approval,” most are home schools that serve a single family. But some, like Second Chance, are brick-and-mortar schoolhouses with dozens of students.

Today, the school on Renoir Avenue in Baton Rouge appears abandoned, shuttered perhaps for good after several brushes with the law. Its lone teacher is facing charges for sexual misconduct.

But the number of Louisiana children in unapproved schools — far outside the eye of any government official who might look out for abuse, or check whether children are getting a real education — is skyrocketing. Enrollment in such schools jumped from around 11,600 students in 2017-18 to over 21,000 this past school year, one example of the pandemic-era disengagement that has seen thousands of students nationwide leave the traditional education system.

Second Chance opened as a private school in the late 1980s, specializing in serving students expelled from public schools. Its founder, Brendia Ford, clashed repeatedly with public officials. Once, she defiantly held classes on the lawn for two weeks when the fire marshal shut off the school’s power, saying it was in dangerous condition after Hurricane Katrina.

In 1996, Ford’s son, Corey Nash, was arrested on charges that he sexually assaulted a 12-year-old student in the school’s locker room. He ultimately pleaded guilty to simple battery, a reduced charge that allowed him to continue working with children.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education revoked the school’s approval to grant state-recognized diplomas in 2000. State inspectors could neither find attendance or progress reports nor verify enrollment, according to media reports at the time.

Still, it remained open as an unapproved school. As long as the school didn’t take public funding, it could operate with freedom from regulations besides the state fire code.

The Louisiana Department of Education collects these schools’ names and enrollment numbers, but little else. It warns parents on its website that it cannot confirm whether these organizations even meet the legal definition of a school.

“We can’t say that these are real schools,” said Laura Hawkins, a former LDOE official.

Other examples of unapproved schools in Louisiana include Springfield Preparatory Academy, which an AP investigation found was selling diplomas, and T.M. Landry, where a 2018 New York Times investigation found transcripts were falsified to get students into Ivy League schools.

Many colleges won’t accept diplomas from unapproved schools because students must prove they attended a state-approved program to receive federal financial aid, said Billy Clark, president of Delta College in Baton Rouge.

Asked about the allegations against Second Chance, a Louisiana Department of Education spokesperson, Ted Beasley, said by law the department does not have oversight of unapproved schools.

Cummings was unaware of all this when she started looking into alternatives to East Baton Rouge public schools. It was the height of the pandemic, and Cummings thought her children would be safer at a smaller school.

Her partner attended Second Chance in the 1990s and recommended it. Cummings enrolled her twin daughters and older son in fall 2020, paying $375 a month.

Nash was the only teacher at the school, and often the only adult in the building, where Cummings would typically see around 25 teenagers. Cummings’ son got ahead of the material so quickly that she says he started teaching the class himself.

Still, Cummings saw advantages to the school.

“He was able to let the kids be who they are. Rather than, you know, suspending them for small, minor things that public schools will suspend for,” she said.

When several trade schools refused to recognize his diploma, Cummings complained to Nash. He said some colleges just have different rules.

A lawyer for Nash, Dele Adebamiji, said he could not comment while a court case is pending against his client. Attempts to reach Marlin Ford, listed in state records as the school’s leader, were unsuccessful.

After Cummings posted on social media that her son was valedictorian, acquaintances started sharing rumors about abuse at Second Chance. She checked her daughter’s phone, and says she discovered Nash had been offering money for nude photos and asking to let him touch her.

Infuriated, Cummings confronted Nash in an encounter filmed by her daughter and released on social media. In the video, he said his texts were just a “stupid joke” and he “never put my hands on her, never touched her.”

“No, but you tried. Don’t be stupid,” Cummings’ daughter replied.

Within days, Nash was arrested. Another, unnamed victim had come forward to police in May with allegations that Nash started sexually abusing her when she was 14, around 2009. Nash, who is out on bail, faces charges of sexual battery, molestation and indecent behavior with a juvenile.

Cummings has been homeschooling her daughters and looking for ways for her son to receive a legitimate diploma while he takes community college classes. Her daughter, depressed after reading victim-blaming comments on social media, rarely leaves the house.

Cummings said she hopes other parents will understand the risks of unapproved schools.

“I wanted everybody to know not to enroll your kids,” she said. “I took a chance on mine, but don’t take a chance on yours.”


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


This photo provided by U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shows the Bissell Steam Shot Handhel...

Associated Press

Over 3 million steam cleaners are under recall because they can spew hot water and cause burns

NEW YORK (AP) — Some 3.3 million steam cleaners are being recalled across North America due to a burn hazard that has resulted in consumers reporting more than 150 injuries. Select models of Bissell-branded “Steam Shot Handheld Steam Cleaners” can spew hot water or steam while the products are in use or being heated up, […]

2 days ago

FILE - In this image provided by KFOR-TV, a heavily damaged vehicle is seen off a road in Tishoming...

Associated Press

After crash that killed 6 teens, NTSB chief says people underestimate marijuana’s impact on drivers

DETROIT (AP) — A horrific crash that killed six high school girls in Oklahoma two years ago has the head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board urging parents to warn teenagers about the risk of driving after using marijuana. Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy made the appeal to parents Thursday as her agency released the final […]

2 days ago

Residents walk through the Petare neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. (AP P...

Associated Press

The uncertainty that plagues life in crisis-ridden Venezuela is also wreaking havoc on relationships

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Victoria Estevez finally met someone who saw past her shyness. They spent two months learning about their likes and dislikes, texting about their families and friends, and walking around their hometowns on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. On a trip to the capital in December, they held each other for the first time. […]

3 days ago

Gracie Wiener poses for a photo with some of her tote bags in Washington Square Park in New York, W...

Associated Press

Historic utility AND high fashion. 80-year-old LL Bean staple finds a new audience as a trendy bag

FREEPORT, Maine (AP) — L.L. Bean created it 80 years ago to haul heavy blocks of ice. Now it’s a must-have summer fashion accessory. The simple, sturdy canvas bag called the Boat and Tote is having an extended moment 80 years after its introduction, thanks to a social media trend in which they’re monogrammed with […]

3 days ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Servic...

Associated Press

Trump’s escape from disaster by mere inches reveals a tiny margin with seismic impact

NEW YORK (AP) — Jarring, chaotic and sudden, the bullet whizzed toward the stage where former President Donald Trump stood behind a podium speaking. In its wake: the potential for a horrifying and tragic chapter in American history. But the Republican presidential candidate had a narrow escape — mere inches, possibly less — in Saturday’s […]

5 days ago

FILE - An Amazon Prime cardboard shipping box label is seen on March 17, 2023, in East Derry, N.H. ...

Associated Press

Amazon Prime Day is a big event for scammers, experts warn

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon Prime Day is here, and experts are reminding consumers to be wary of scams. Deceptions such as phony emails from people impersonating online retailers like Amazon are nothing new. But phishing attempts increase amid the heavy spending seen during significant sales events, whether it’s Black Friday or Prime Day, according […]

5 days ago

A mom chose an off-the-grid school for safety from COVID. No one protected her kid from the teacher