State officials to seize Sawyer student records

RHODE ISLAND OFFICIALS will enter Sawyer School facilities this weekend to take custody of student records in the wake of the for-profit school's abrupt closure.
Posted 1/4/13

PROVIDENCE – State higher education officials will enter facilities of the closed Sawyer School over the weekend, accompanied by state police, to take custody of student academic and financial records, Mike Trainor, spokesman for the state Office of Higher Education, said at a press conference on Friday.

The school closed its doors without notice on Wednesday, leaving 302 students in limbo about their financial aid, academic plans and the certificates of completion some have earned for business and medical-assistant secretary programs.

“Our first priority now is to identify where the records are and secure them,” Trainor said.

“These are critical for students seeking to transfer or find employment.”

Sawyer School had one educational facility in Providence, one in Pawtucket and a corporate office in Providence, Trainor said. State education officials will only take custody of the student records, not corporate records, he said.

Education officials had a phone conversation Thursday evening with the former executive director of the Rhode Island Sawyer School, Paul Kelly, Trainor said. Kelly told officials he was no longer employed by the school, but he provided some background information that is assisting officials in their investigation and efforts to help students continue with education or employment planning.

“We’re not sure who is running the Sawyer School at this time,” Trainor said. Officials have been briefly in touch with Michael Kelly, who is thought by state education officials to be the sole shareholder of the parent company of the Sawyer School, said Trainor. He said Kelly provided no details of the school’s operation or closing.

Trainor added that he did not know if Michael and Paul Kelly are related.

The U.S. Department of Education is collaborating with state officials, particularly because the majority of Sawyer School students received federal or state financial aid, Trainor said.

The Sawyer School passed the annual state audit in August 2012 with no red flags, Trainor said.

“What we have here is a complete lack of communication with Sawyer School,” said Trainor. He said Sawyer School has operated in Rhode Island since 1964 under several different owners.

Displaced students will get updated information through a hotline 401-277-5018 and from the state Office of Higher Education. Six schools are working with state officials to determine academic transfer information for the students and help them continue with their education, Trainor said.

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