The Ohio Department of Education officially has revoked the school registration of Christians of Faith Academy, according to an Oct. 19 email sent by the ODE to ThisWeek.
COF materialized this summer and burst onto the scene due to a powerhouse high school football schedule that included high-level opponents from Ohio and beyond.
According to the ODE, the school was classified as a noncharter school that’s not supported by taxes, sometimes known as an “08” school in reference to its section in the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC 3301-35-08). That designation is reserved for schools that need to operate outside the usual structure because of “truly held religious beliefs.”
The “08” schools are not chartered by Ohio and are not subject to many of the state’s rules on schooling, but they must submit attendance figures and “a report to parents that the school meets the Ohio Operating Standards” each year, according to the ODE website.
On documents sent to the ODE, Jay Richardson is listed as the school’s superintendent.
Richardson is a former Ohio State University and NFL player who is a regular analyst on “The Football Fever,” an Ohio State football program broadcast on WSYX-TV in Columbus. He also co-founded the Jay Richardson Foundation, a nonprofit organization that “focuses on the long-term success of our adolescent youth,” according to its website.
In a letter addressed to Richardson and COF Academy sent Thursday, Oct. 18, Susan Cosmo, ODE director of nonpublic educational options, informed the school that the department had begun an investigation Sept. 26 that concluded the school was not in operation at the address it had provided the ODE.
“(Documents) identified Christians of Faith Academy would begin operation on August 14, 2018 and students would be in session on September 26, 2018, the date the visit was conducted,” the letter reads. “Occupants of the 112 Jefferson Avenue location informed the Department they had no knowledge of Christians of Faith Academy. Because the school could not be located and student attendance could not be verified, the Department will not include Christians of Faith Academy with the published list of non-Chartered, non-tax supported schools for the 2018-19 school year.”
The Jefferson Avenue address is the Third Episcopal District Headquarters of the AME Church, an organization Johnson has maintained was funding the COF Academy project.
In September, the AME Church denied all involvement with COF Academy and accused the school of using the AME Church’s name to sell “life insurance” and “seeking donations” by telling people it was related to the church.
Richardson has not returned calls seeking comment for the story and has spoken to ThisWeek only through Twitter messages and his attorney. His phone number has changed since ThisWeek last contacted him for comment in September.
Roy Johnson, who has served as the face of the school and its spokesman, said he didn’t understand the ODE decision.
“What I don’t understand is what changed,” he said.
Because the note was addressed to Richardson and the AME Church, he said he was hearing about it for the first time but said he was confident he would be able to fix the issue with the ODE.
“I think once there’s a definitive answer on what our school was – where the kids were going, once I can talk to them about all that – I think it will clear up,” he said.
Johnson said the school has been operating out of libraries and “other locations” and doesn’t have a specific headquarters or classroom. He originally had said the school would have about 500 students but said the school “didn’t go as big as we thought.” He said he couldn’t confirm how many students attended the school.
COF Academy’s academic program is run by Minnesota-based education company Edmentum through its EdOptions Online Academy. Johnson said he believed that meant ODE certification was irrelevant.
“Our kids have signed up with the Edmentum program, EdOptions, and we’ve actually held classes,” he said. “They have classes that they’re in and they’re started. (The ODE) knows that’s online, so I don’t know if that’s an issue.”
Representatives for Edmentum did not immediately return a call for comment.
Johnson said the school has never charged tuition, despite saying in August that students would be charged tuition and assisted through financial aid.
He said he couldn’t explain why AME Church denies affiliation with the school, but he didn’t specify that the church was funding the program, as he had previously.
He said much of the school’s finances are supported by “parents contributing and coming out of our own pocket,” saying that’s a reason multiple business owners and employees have reported that the school has not paid multi-thousand-dollar debts.
The plan, he said, is still to pay the school’s debts.
“This was explained to those people,” he said. “We’re working toward that.”
Johnson said he’s not worried about the future of the school and still believes he and COF Academy are doing what’s best for the students involved.
“I’m trying to make sure that this isn’t a situation where the kids aren’t being helped and we forget what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Throughout the summer Johnson said Richardson was a main leader behind COF Academy. Now, he said, Richardson is no longer as involved in the school because “things change over time.”
“As things moved on and the dynamics changed, you get different people in there,” he said. “That doesn’t change that in the beginning, (superintendent) was his role. Participating in the beginning doesn’t mean he’s participating now.”
According to the ODE letter, the school has 30 days to appeal the decision.