MESA, Ariz. - Gated up and overrun with weeds is not how students and parents envisioned Hillcrest Academy in Mesa would look just a few weeks into the new school year.
The charter school left families scrambling in August after school leaders notified them it was closing 24 hours before the first day of school.
For Amber Henthorn, news of the closure felt like deja vu.
Her children attended Hillcrest's Phoenix location when it opened as a new school in 2014.
Henthorn said right off the bat, the school has issues with its charter and had to cancel below fourth grade.
“They assured us there was no reason for anything else to happen,” Henthorn told 12 News.
More did happen.
As students were about to return from winter break, the school shocked everyone by suddenly shutting down.
“The kids were absolutely devastated,” Henthorn said, “Even now my son, it's something that he'll never forget.”
The school’s latest closure in Mesa forced more than 120 students to find a new school.
12 News spoke with the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools about Hillcrest’s ongoing issues.
“It does put them in breach of their contract and opens them up to disciplinary action by the board,” said Whitney Chapa, the executive director.
Chapa said the board knew Hillcrest was having some financial issues and had warned them not to enroll students if there was a chance they weren't going to open “so that parents were not left in this situation,” said Chapa, “So we're very disappointed that this happened.”
In a letter to parents, Hillcrest's school board cited operational issues and the failing health of the principal as the reason for closing.
12 News tried reaching out to school leaders by phone and email but never received a response.
All phone numbers associated with the school are now disconnected.
The school has changed its name and moved locations several times over the past few years.
Chapa said the school notified the board it would be changing its name again this year before closing for good.
According to state court records, Hillcrest Academy is currently dealing with several lawsuits.
Chapa said the board is currently reviewing complaints from parents at the Mesa location.
It is also holding a board meeting Sept. 12 to discuss revoking the school’s charter.
“I’m a little bit more leery, even though we'd always gone to charter schools,” said Henthorn, “That was a very eye-opening experience.”
Henthorn said when the Phoenix location closed, many parents ended up putting their children in online school until they could find a permanent option.
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