The former Limestone and Athens city school superintendents along with four others are now facing a class action lawsuit.
The lawsuit represents every student whose information was stolen in a school enrollment fraud scheme that allowed the group to pocket millions of dollars in state funding.
Attorneys filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday morning in order to prevent hundreds of separate lawsuits against the group from being filed. The goal is to offer protections and restitution to the students involved.
"It’s basically about money, power, all under the guise of helping and educating underserved communities and students in the Blackbelt," Will League, attorney at Siniard, Timberlake and League, said.
Former superintendents Trey Holladay, Tom Sisk and four others are facing several federal charges in an elaborate scheme where they offered private schools perks and benefits like laptops, equipment and paid conferences in exchange for student information.
"Their names, social security numbers, and dates of birth were stolen to perpetrate this scheme," said Eric Artrip, attorney for Mastando and Artrip, said.
Students who lived out of state were given fake addresses from vacant homes advertised on real estate websites. The lawsuit and federal indictment say the group used the information to enroll students into their virtual learning program.
"Knowing that it requires a parent signature," said League.
The lawsuit claims Holladay said private school headmasters could sign enrollment forms meaning parents and students had no idea their information was transferred.
"The biggest thing that they experienced was shock and surprise that their students were enrolled in a program at the other end of the state that they had no, knew nothing about," said Artrip.
Report cards were even modified to not include the private school names. The lawsuit claims they were filed as though the students earned the grade through the district, allowing the group to collect around $7,000 in state funding per student.
"These children's identity were stolen to make money," Artrip said.
At this time, it's unclear how many students were impacted by the scheme, but Artrip says, "we think there may be hundreds of students involved and we think there may be millions of dollars at stake here."
Attorneys say students involved are already at risk of having their identity stolen. It could even impact their college applications.
“Having your identity out there, you know, do they need life lock protection for the next ten years? Are they going to wake up one morning and have their bank account drained? Their transcripts if they’re not in order— you know, every parent and student's worry is to get accepted to college and progress academically— if the transcripts are not in order, if they didn’t get the credits they were supposed to get when they signed up for this education through Athens City School and the virtual school, then that could create havoc," League said.
Attorneys hope this class action lawsuit will help protect them.
"[To] help these children move forward with regard to their identity and their personal information being out there,” says League.
WAAY 31 reached out to the Athens and Limestone County school districts in regards to this new lawsuit.
"I have reviewed the lawsuit filed in the Barbour County Circuit Court against former Superintendents Holladay and Sisk, and other individuals, which contains many of the same allegations as in the federal indictment. Although neither Athens City Schools, nor any of its active employees, are defendants in the case, I want to express that the allegations in the lawsuit, like those in the indictment, if true, constitute a monumental breach of trust and deception against the Athens City Schools’ board, teachers, students, and community," Athens City School Superintendent Beth Patton said.
We are still waiting to hear back from the Limestone County school district.
Attorneys are now waiting for a response from the defendants regarding the class action lawsuit.