Children's language school abruptly closes without issuing refunds, parents say

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A children's language school with locations in Chicago, the suburbs and some other states abruptly closed its doors, leaving families surprised and out of money. (WLS)

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
A children's language school with locations in Chicago, the suburbs and some other states abruptly closed its doors, leaving families surprised and out of money.

The I-Team received phone calls and emails from families who said they're furious that their children's language school called it quits in the middle of class and after the company collected money for upcoming classes. Now frustrated families said they can't get answers.

Company Language Stars promoted its teaching online, and offered foreign language classes to children for 20 years. It abruptly closed its doors in February.

Some parents said they paid for classes up front.

"We are out probably around $600 to $700, said Geraldine Tillman.

Tillman's daughter Molly enjoyed her Spanish classes at Language Stars since 2014. Everything seemed normal the last time they saw their teacher.

"We said goodbye, see you next Saturday, and that was it. We got an email the next morning saying they had shut down completely," she said.

Language Stars' website said, "Unfortunately, we cannot service our debts as they come due and have exhausted all sources of funding."

Families said there were no warnings and they've heard nothing about possible refunds. Language Stars had a total of 17 locations, most in Chicago and the suburbs, some in Virginia and Washington, D.C. An academic year of classes cost between $2,300 and $3,500.

"We tried to contact them, the website was closed," Tillman said.

About a dozen irate families contacted the I-Team. Several sent proof of payment for cancelled classes.

The Illinois Attorney General said it will "investigate." The AG and the Better Business Bureau said they received similar complaints. One, which the BBB called "egregious," alleged that Language Stars was collecting tuition and enrolling one day before closure.

"We would sign up in spring for the whole school year in full," said Tillman.

Tillman said she almost paid more for a summer camp.

"A two week program, full day it was between $1,800 and $1,900," she said. "This particular year we started to get a lot of, an influx of emails earlier than normal."

Leslie Lancry is the founder of Language Stars. The I-Team emailed, mailed and knocked on her door at her Lincoln Park home.

The I-Team also reached out to CEO Matt Kinnich. When they received no response, they caught up with him in Northfield.

He drove away without answering any questions.

The I-Team also reached out to HCP & Co., a private equity firm that invested in Language Stars. It did not reply.

"The responsible thing to do would be at least refund people," Tillman said.

The Language Stars website does direct parents to an email address if they still want to be connected to one of the school's teachers. It says nothing about refunds, and parents like Tillman said they're not getting replies from the company.

"I think a letter of explanation would be appreciated," she said.

If you lost tuition at Language Stars, the Illinois Attorney General's Office said you can file a complaint on their website, and if the amount is under $10,000 you can file suit in small claims court.

So far records show the company has not filed for bankruptcy.

When paying for any service up front, you should use a credit card so you can dispute the charges. Also ask if the contract states what your refund rights may be if a business closes abruptly.

Click here to see Language Stars' closure statement and contact information.
Click here to file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General.
Click here for more information about filing a claim in Pro Se Small Claims Court.
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educationI-Teamconsumerschool closings
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