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How a Beacon of NYC English Language Schools Left Immigrants and Staff in the Lurch

On Tuesday, April 2, American Language Communication Center, an English school for immigrants which has been in existence for forty-four years, announced that it was closing, the last day of operations to be Friday, April 5.

The news came as a shock to everyone including teachers, staff and even the school’s three directors.

I was a teacher at ALCC but didn’t hear about the closure until I received an email on Wednesday from a Russian student who’d been with me for several years.  Although I’d been out of school for three months, first with a respiratory infection, then with indecision about whether I wanted to go back, I’d recently seen this girl, along with some former students, at a gathering organized by one of them, a French lawyer who’d flown in to sit for the New York State Bar exam.

I raced down to the school which was in an uproar with students, teachers and staff in tears.

The students feared for their status.  Those on F-1 visas need to be enrolled in a school or risk being “out of status,” in effect, illegal.  One student from Latin America had been with his girlfriend in her country, also in Latin America, celebrating his birthday.  A friend sent him a photograph of crime tape cordoning off the cashiers’ area.  “You’ve got to get back here immediately,” his friend said.

The Latin American student described leaving his birthday dinner and racing back to the airport where he told the ticket attendant, “I need to get on the next flight back to New York.”  The ticket cost three times as much as the one he’d bought on the way out.

He’d spent all of an hour on his birthday vacation.

Among the teachers, many would be losing their insurance and unable to afford COBRA.  Some were afraid that ALCC’s checks would bounce.  Two teachers reported that this had happened to them recently although they were ultimately reimbursed.

The following day, the students showed up early and organized themselves to make the process of receiving their transfer papers go more smoothly.  A Fox News van was parked across the street.

Upstairs, student Ruth Cardenas assisted the agents and directors who, by this time, were working for free.

An article in Thecity.nyc highlighted a quote from “ALCC representative Peter Pachter:  ‘For those that have made payment, I am sorry to tell you that we are not able to make any refunds.'”

Pachter is not only a representative; he is also the brother of John Pachter, the school’s owner.

BlueData, New York Language Center, ZONI and Kaplan, four of the other language schools in the Midtown neighborhood, have stepped in to help out by accepting ALCC students without asking for any more tuition than they’ve already paid.

I asked these schools whether ALCC was transferring funds to them or whether they’re simply hoping to inherit the students long term.  Barbara Dick of New York Language Center replied:  “ALCC is not forwarding any money to us.  They are closed. They are out.  Gone.”

Students who transfer to one of these schools have a week in which to decide whether they wish to stay there.  If they don’t, they can apply for a refund under Section 5007(4)(c) of the Education Law.

One unanswered question in this debacle is how the precariousness of the school’s finances managed to escape the attention of CEA, the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation, which looks not only into a given institution’s academics, but also into its finances. A June, 2018 review of the school written by a former Program Coordinator reads, under “Cons:”  “This is the time to announce your bankruptcy.”  Under “Pros,” instead of positive aspects, the writer lists the reasons for the school’s abysmal straits.  On June 12, 2018, a Student Agent wrote, “The receptionist was talking to her friend that the owners were in court because the building owners want to evict us.” Yet in December 2018, CEA gave the school a clean bill of health for the next ten years.

 

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Jenna Orkin is the author of Writer Wannabe Seeks Brush With Death.

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