Forged high school diplomas leave former students in limbo

PEARL RIVER COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Imagine graduating high school, even starting college, only to find out months later that your high school diploma might not be valid. That's what's unfolding in Picayune right now.

In May, eight students put on caps and gowns and received their high school diplomas from the Christian Academy of Picayune. Now state and local authorities are investigating whether those diplomas are nothing more than pretty paper.

"The diplomas they were issued weren't worth the paper they were written on," said concerned parent Scott Tebo.

Tebo said he and his daughter, Aimee, were devastated when they got a letter from the headmaster of Christian Academy of Picayune saying her high school diploma was worthless.

"The school wasn't accredited, as we were told. It was all just sort of a big scandal," said Tebo.

Tebo posted a picture of the letter on Facebook to warn others. In the letter headmaster, Candice Downey admitted the diplomas "are not valid documents due to the fact that I forged the signature of Alan Lumpkin."

Alan Lumpkin is the Superintendent of schools in Pearl River County. He has no role in issuing or signing diplomas outside the district. But now he's having to answer questions from parents.

"We had two parents that brought those into us and we were able to see that my name was forged. It was my name, but not my signature," said Lumpkin.

Despite what she wrote in the letter to parents, Downey told WLOX News Now she didn't forge the signature. She said someone she trusted brought her the signed diplomas.

Downey leased space for the school at House of Refuge Church in Picayune where she is a member. The school is no longer there and the pastor told us the school was never part of the church. He released this statement to WLOX:

"House of Refuge is a separate entity from Christian Academy of Picayune. Candice Downey subleased the building from the church during the weekdays of Monday-Thursday 8am-12:30 pm. Mrs. Downey was and remains a member of our church body. We will continue to pastor and counsel her during this time. What was done was wrong and we truly feel bad for the children involved, but House of Refuge was in no shape or form involved with any business of the school and legally totally separate."

For Tebo, his biggest concern is his daughter's future. She's currently taking classes at Pearl River Community College.

"Everything's in limbo as to what's gonna happen. The biggest problem is she can not get transcripts from the high school," said Tebo.

Pearl River Community College is also aware of the situation, but we learned some good news for Aimee Tebo. Though the school wouldn't mention her by name, a spokesman said she remains enrolled and there are no plans to dismiss her.

The true victim of the situations are the students of the school, especially the graduating seniors who under the impression that they had received a valid diploma from that school," Lumpkin said.

Pearl River County District Attorney Hal Kittrell told us his office is working with the Picayune Police Department to investigate the complaints, but it's too early to say if any forgery or fraud charges will be filed. The State Department of Education is also looking into the matter.

If your child attends a private school, here's what you need to know about accreditation:

  • The state accredits non-public schools by request.
  • Accreditation isn't a state requirement or regulation.
  • Many private schools on the coast are accredited by the Mississippi Department of Education.
  • There is also an independent association that can accredit private schools.

Here's a list of the private schools currently accredited by the Mississippi Department of Education:

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