Ever watch the Tiger King series? This story happens to be a lot like that. I’m not exaggerating.
Let me set the stage for you about this circus they call a Montessori School.
The owners are married – we’ll call them Ma and Pa, just to keep things simple. Ma and Pa claim to champion a unique type of Montessori that addresses all ages – so they have a “program” that serves 18 months to 12th grade students. Ma and Pa don’t have any degrees nor teaching certificates, but Ma is the “Executive Director” and Pa is a “founder”. Pa is a loose, angry cannon that essentially controls the mouth and mind of Ma (and thus the school) and he tends to have random confrontations with strangers around town.
If you know much about Montessori, you know its a self-directed learning of motor skills and life lessons for small children. When done properly, its a method that can drive independence and critical thinking. Ma and Pa wanted to be the only Montessori High School in the state! Unfortunately the concept doesn’t really work well beyond elementary age, which is why in 10 years their school has only churned out four high school “success” stories, which, truth be told, aren’t as successful as they boast.
Their school is situated in a charming cottage on a plot of land nestled in residential area on a feeder road, between a public school and a private school that are actually quite reputable. They boast of animal “husbandry” but they just have a poorly cared for old pony for photo ops. Ma continues to buy and sell goats to keep the baby variety around, as its more charming. The animals roam the property and playground freely (watch your step, please). There has been more than one argument over the years with neighbors over the animals wandering off the property lines. One year Pa shot a neighbor’s dog that ate one of the chickens – that caused quite a stir, let me tell you!
Did I mention Ma and Pa live at the school?
Between yelling at Ma to “shut up” and asking her “are you stupid” and the like in front of all manners of teachers and students and guests, Pa is very political and has appointed himself chairman to an Ethics in Government group, in which he and Ma are the only members. Pa has proudly touted in his political rants that he once ran down “thugs” who stole his “lawnmower” and shot 12 rounds from his shotgun into the side of their vehicle before running them off the road and “tying them to the hood” of his car. He often filmed “fireside chats” inside the school and posted them online, creating a new political “party” that he deemed the “answer” to the nation’s problems.
Ma and Pa spend significant time trolling local commissioners, as Pa lost a recent election in which he ran for a seat. Most of his loss was due to the fact that he was charged with Cruelty to Children and was awaiting trial during the campaign, but he wasn’t worried at the time – he was good pals with the judge, who would later find him not guilty despite obviously fraudulent evidence. Two years later the Judge would be subsequently publicly honored at Ma and Pa’s annual school gala.
The child that Pa was charged over was the only one of many that got actual attention. The child, who was determined to be special needs, was hit with 6 strikes of a leather belt by Pa and held down by his step-son, who we’ll call Billy [Chase Hardin], just because, ya know, it fits. The boy was bruised badly and when the police were called, Pa produced a notarized letter that he claimed the mom signed and gave him permission to hit the boy, if he deemed it necessary. Some say this note was manufactured entirely, on the account that the notary who put their seal on it was the secretary at the school at the time and best life pals with Ma. Either way, Ma and Pa smeared the mother of the abused something awful in the community and on the news, and even did sit-down interviews calling her a “Birther” and explaining she wasn’t a true “Mother” since she wouldn’t beat the child herself.
(Doesn’t this just sound SO MONTESSORI?)
Billy, Ma’s son, is most definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but oh touche’ he did go to culinary school. With a history of DUIs and drug possession, beating the mother of his child, oh, and falling asleep at the wheel and demolishing an off-duty officer’s car – Ma decided he should be apart of the school on a permanent basis. For a semester or two, he was considered a “gourmet chef” at the school before he was swiftly put into a middle school teacher position one semester when Ma couldn’t get qualified staff. Although he had no teaching certificate and no bachelors degree, he and his struggle with “there, their, and they’re” were tasked with explaining concepts of education to the youth. After lots of misspelled words and lost tempers, they realized the classroom was just no place for Billy, and they would move him into “administration” once Pa was arrested and had to be removed from the school visually during the trial.
Around the time Billy started boiling hot dogs full-time for the school, Ma and Pa hired “Karen” [Kristen Hardin]. Karen came to them with an impressive resume… top 5% of a Medical university, with a Masters and PhD, Teacher of the Year accolades, worked with a special surgery team to remove tumors from small children, while simultaneously working in special education and being a Curriculum director. Wowzers! She had all the bells and whistles – and Pa had himself a “racehorse” to market the school with! With this new asset, they claimed to be “STEM” leaders, which soon changed to “STEAM” and then “STEAMM” and then “E-STEAMM” as Pa’s spastic behavior began to make wildly advanced claims about the school and its offerings.
A few years after Karen was hired, Billy and Karen got married. That was a huge indicator to many people that those accolades Karen had didn’t seem to match her. She was telling people she had cancer, heart problems, a port installed for chemo, a miscarriage… people starting wondering what about Karen was even true. After helping her 6th grade class write a story about one child murdering another, she had incidents with children accusing her of lying on them – it was becoming quite evident that Karen had a problem with honesty. But Ma and Pa had already made several commercials and videos using Karen’s “credentials”. They backed their racehorse and ignored every red flag warning.
Did I mention Karen had essentially kidnapped a step-child from her previous marriage and enrolled her in the school? We’ll call this child Cinderella, because that’s how she was treated – and when Billy and Karen had a baby of their own, Cinderella’s life got even harder. Often tasked with washing all the school’s dishes and cutting the grass, Cinderella was also punished by being made to wear a backpack loaded with cookbooks and told to walk up and down the stairs until she was exhausted. Once, after sneaking a sweet, Ma and Pa and Karen and Billy made Cinderella eat a bowl of hot peppers, explaining it was necessary because she was diabetic. Cinderella would eventually graduate and run for the hills… eventually reuniting with her mother she had been kept from.
Over the years countless families and teachers cycled through the location. The only constants were Ma, Pa, Billy, and Karen. Reputable teachers came, and quickly went. Angry parents cried to the news, boards, hospitals, lawyers…. and no one seemed to be able to make any traction against the school. Accusations of small kids being locked on patios to eat alone, being drug around the parking lot in circles in 90 degree heat until they stopped crying, parents being charged full price but being required to pick their children up by noon because they were special needs, Karen in multiple altercations with parents over their children, teachers not being paid, children being used to cut grass and shovel manure… let’s just say things weren’t great at the school. They continued to have the needed licenses and accreditations by pulling in just enough ignorant people every year to shuffle credentials and use – until those sweet souls were turned against and the cycle started again.
In 2018 things got really sour for Ma and Pa. After years of battling liens and debts and bad press, their school took a blow when a previous staff member and parent launched a website collectively sharing all sorts of damning evidence about Ma, Pa, Karen, and Billy. Accusations of sexual molestation by Ma of a foster child, along with her claims to work with neuroscientists on brain training were released. Recent dating profiles for the married Billy, along with his criminal record and application for employment (which was full of spelling errors and a total lack of any real experience) were posted. Karen’s questionable resume and a completely fabricated letter from Medical university were found and released, along with business cards were shared- and she was outright accused of being a fraud. Photos of children, lost testimonials – it all came crashing down.
Ma and Karen and Billy spent months settings traps and finger pointing and in-fighting until they figured out who they thought may have been behind it. They responded by filing a lawsuit against a single mom of four to intimidate her into removing the information. The author of the website had been obtaining information about them quietly for years. They had given her extensive access to help with marketing and expansion for some time. They had asked her to help with things that she knew were immoral. She documented everything. She exposed everything. She purchased several domains and launched a full scale attack against the school.
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