A large green ‘open’ banner hangs outside the Huntington Learning Centre, a provider of tutoring and test preparation in Windsor.
Eye-catching marketing materials fill the storefronts. From the sidewalk, you can see tables filled with paper, pens and erasers, walls decorated with children’s drawings and vocabulary words on post-its. An alphabet foam puzzle is mostly assembled on the floor.
The only sign that something is wrong are the five legal documents posted on the front door, eviction notices dating from January to March 2022, including a February order to pay $10,061 in rent owed.
In a similar juxtaposition, a number of local parents found the center suddenly closed earlier this year, their children’s lessons suspended without warning or explanation and no clear recourse to recover the money for the tutoring sessions they already had. purchased.
Teri Rolleri’s daughter had been visiting the Huntington Learning Center three times a week since last fall.
“It worked really well for us the first few months,” Rolleri told me. “She was making good progress. Everything was great.
In late November, Rolleri paid the next tuition installment — about $4,600 for 80 hours of tutoring — and then after the Christmas break, “everything fell apart,” she said.
The owner failed to show up for their monthly conference and Rolleri received notice that the center would be briefly closed for professional development training and a minor office overhaul in early January.
Shortly after, the shutdown was extended due to a COVID-19 outbreak and staffing shortages, according to another message received by Rolleri which also assured that its normal programming would resume shortly.
But that was not the case. Rolleri’s daughter came back for a week of sessions and then everything went black. Several messages, phone calls and emails went unanswered.
“That was it,” Rolleri said. “I never heard again. Then the phone was disconnected.
Others have complained of similar experiences in community Facebook groups in Windsor. The Windsor Chamber of Commerce has also received calls from customers seeking answers.
For Rolleri, it’s not just about lost money.
“My daughter is not tutored now, so she is falling behind,” she said, “but that was the money I had to do it, and I can’t just go to another place.”
The Windsor company is a nationwide franchise of the Huntington Learning Center, in operation since 1977 with locations in 41 states and Washington, D.C.
The Windsor store was operated by Dynafolio LLC, which is owned by Kanin Asvaplungprohm, which acquired the local franchise in 2019, according to company records and a Huntington Learning Center press release.
People I spoke to said that before the closure they were happy with Asvaplungprohm’s communication and services. The landlord also said he was always quick with rent until earlier this year, but she hadn’t heard from him in months.
Asvaplungprohm did not respond to emails, phone or social media messages. An auto-reply from his work email read: ‘The Windsor Center is temporarily closed due to force majeure. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. (Force majeure is a term often used in contracts to refer to unforeseen circumstances.)
Unsure of what to do, many clients seeking recovery contacted the headquarters of the Huntington Learning Center in New Jersey.
Steven Jones said he called the main office a dozen times and never got an answer. Desperate, he even telephoned each person listed in the automated directory.
Jones and his wife had enrolled their grandson in a local high school after he moved in with them about a year and a half ago. He needed help catching up, so the family turned to the local tutoring operation, investing around $12,000 in total. It was money that Jones paid with his savings and via a loan.
“The first six months were fine, but now it’s become a real nightmare for us,” Jones said.
He estimates that he lost around $2,000 in the end. After weeks of searching for answers to no avail, the idea of going to Small Claims Court, one of his only options, was not worth the resources and energy.
“I doubt I’ll get the money back,” Jones told me. “I’m going to repay the loan and hope my grandson graduates from grade 10.”
Ultimately, the individual owner — not the corporate franchising firm — is responsible for contacting and reimbursing customers, a Huntington Learning Center representative said, adding, however, that the company is aware that some refunds had been granted.
“The owner of the Huntington Learning Center in Windsor, Calif., made the difficult decision to close the center earlier this year,” Vice President of Franchise Operations Karla Hopf said in a statement.