Ivy Ridge accreditation suspended in state probe
By Chris Garifo, Times Albany Correspondent
Watertime Daily Times, April 15, 2005

ALBANY - The Academy at Ivy Ridge's accreditation has been suspended in the wake of a state attorney general's office inquiry into the business practices of the institution that offers behavior modification for teenagers.

"We sent them a cease and desist letter," said David G. Steadman, executive director of the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools. "It means they're not supposed to say they're accredited until their legal issues are solved."

Jason G. Finlinson, director of Ivy Ridge, said its accreditation was "under review" but he refused to go into detail.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss it," he said. "Just because."

He referred all calls to James Wall, chief executive officer of the Denver-based public relations firm Freeman, Wall & Aiello. However, Mr. Wall was out of town until Monday and unavailable.

The Boise, Idaho-based Northwest Association conferred candidate membership on Ivy Ridge in 2002, the first year the boarding school on Route 37 just outside of Ogdensburg was open. Candidate members must complete a self-evaluation within three years of their application date that shows they are in "substantial compliance" with the association's standards.

Candidate membership allows an institution to claim it is accredited but does not allow it to vote on association bylaws, standards or membership dues. Accreditation indicates that an institution provides a level of education that meets standards set by the accrediting agency.

Ivy Ridge had maintained its accreditation up until last week as a result of visits to the campus by two teams from the association, Mr. Steadman said.

Another visit to the campus was planned this summer, but that also has been put on hold, said Leonard D. Paul, Northwest Association's associate director.

"Everything is on hold pending a response to our request that they show licenses and/or certificates, whatever is required in the state of New York to operate," he said.

The association sent Ivy Ridge the cease and desist letter after a telephone inquiry from the Watertown regional office of the state attorney general's office. That inquiry led the association to believe the school does not have the state licenses required by the organization, Mr. Steadman said.

A spokesman for Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer declined comment Thursday.

State agencies, including the attorney general's office and the Office of Children and Family Services, in February began looking into Ivy Ridge, including allegations of physical abuse of students.

The attorney general's regional office in Watertown served a subpoena on Ivy Ridge seeking records to determine whether it had been advertising itself as a diploma-granting institution, which officials believe it was not accredited to do. Ivy Ridge officials responded to the subpoena but not to the satisfaction of state lawyers in Watertown, who asked for more documents, according to a source.

At the time the inquiry started, Ivy Ridge's Web site said it offered a general diploma and a college prep diploma, which included a foreign language requirement.

Since then, however, information about its accreditation and any diplomas has been removed from the site, www.academyivyridge.com.

According to the 2005 edition of the Northwest Association's policies and procedures manual, new member schools must "be approved, accredited, licensed, or recognized by the legally constituted educational agency in its state, country, or federal government agency."

The association accredited Ivy Ridge because of its affiliation with the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, Mr. Steadman said. WWASPS is based in Utah, which is among the states covered by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools.

"They belong to WWASPS," Mr. Steadman said. "It was WWASPS that asked us to accredit them; we accredit all of their schools."

However, WWASPS President Kenneth E. Kay said Ivy Ridge does not belong to his organization; it just receives programming and support.

"We don't own or direct what they do," he said when the state inquiries were first launched.

However, Ivy Ridge and WWASPS have more than a business relationship.

Utah businessman Robert B. Lichfield, one of three members of the WWASPS board, bought the 237 acres of the former Mater Dei College campus where Ivy Ridge sits. He leased the property to WWASPS. He also is Mr. Finlinson's brother-in-law.

If WWASPS no longer wants to claim ownership of Ivy Ridge, "then we won't accredit them," Mr. Steadman said.

Despite the action taken against Ivy Ridge, Northwest Association does not plan to reassess the accreditation of WWASPS's other facilities, in Montana, South Carolina, Utah and Jamaica. WWASPS-associated schools in Mexico, Costa Rica and the Czech Republic reportedly were closed by their respective governments because of allegations of physical abuse, a claim Mr. Kay denies.

"We have no reason to look at other accreditation," Mr. Steadman said. "We had no reason to look at Ivy Ridge; we just have an attorney from New York asking everybody under the sun about its history."

Northwest Association also will not take into consideration any of the abuse allegations being investigated by the state, Mr. Steadman said.

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