PARKERSBURG - The fate of Valley Beauty School and its students - and their financial aid funds - remains unknown.
Adam Higginbotham, executive director of the West Virginia Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists, said things are in limbo.
The school closed Tuesday morning following a picket by students and former instructors. On Wednesday, a sign was posted on the doors of the Avery Street school stating it was closed until further notice because of safety concerns for students and patrons.
The school is under investigation by the state Board of Cosmetology.
"The students are in limbo. All they want to do is earn their hours, take their board exams and become licensed professionals," Higginbotham said. "Right now, what we are faced with is a school that hasn't allowed them that access. We are continuously investigating this issue."
The investigation has been limited. Higginbotham said the school's management has not returned phone calls.
"Every time I call, they are in a meeting," Higginbotham said.
Higginbotham said students of the school have been calling the board seeking answers. According to Higginbotham, the students said when they call school officials they are told management is meeting state board authorities.
Higginbotham said state board investigators haven't been in contact with school officials since July 29 when they were investigating the first complaint they received against the school.
Since the death of the school's owner, Bob Bhavnani, in June, the school has been subject to almost a dozen complaints to the board. The school, which used to average about 60 students, has about 21, according to Higginbotham.
Higginbotham said Valley Beauty School and Bhavnani have been licensed by the state board since 1995. That may change next week. The new owners of the school have until Sept. 5 to complete the process for a 2012 license to operate.
In the meantime, Higginbotham said the board is fielding calls from students inquiring about their future at the school, as well as their financial aid, which in most cases has been paid in full to the school.
The school's cosmetology program costs about $13,000. Higginbotham said questions concerning financial aid were being referred to federal agencies, under the U.S. Department of Education. A message left with a federal official was not returned.
School officials have declined comment to The News and Sentinel. Calls to the school were not returned.
Christine Whitecotton said she was expelled from the school 19 days short of meeting the required number of hours to receive her license. Whitecotton claims she was given permission by the school to take her board exam. She passed the test, but still needs 19 days of instruction to complete the required 2,000 hours of service.
Rather than return to the school, Whitecotton alleges school officials have banned her.
"We are looking out for the student body," Higginbotham said. "Our priority is finding out if the school will reopen and helping the students."