New Birth academy closes; hundreds of students looking for new school

New Birth Christian Academy is closing after 18 years, sending hundreds of students scrambling to find a new school by next week.

The academy, founded by Bishop Eddie Long, informed parents in a letter dated Dec. 22 that the private school's "funding estimates fall far short of our projected needs. It is a very sad occasion, as the NBCA board has made the tough decision to temporarily close the school."

The pre-K-12 school has an enrollment of 221, according to the Georgia Independent School Association, and employs 20 teachers. Just a few years ago, the Lithonia academy boasted of having one teacher for every eight students.

Calls to the GISA office Wednesday were not returned.

"We have operated New Birth Christian Academy for several years with substantial deficits in hopes that the national economic climate would change, however, that change never materialized," said to the letter signed by Carlton Donald, the board's vice chair.

The news caps a tumultuous year for Long. In May, he settled a sexual coercion suit filed against him by four former New Birth members. Earlier this month, his wife of 21 years, Vanessa, filed for divorce, leading the bishop to take some time off from his pastoral duties to tend to "family business," he said. Long remains New Birth's senior pastor.

"We are doing everything in our power to reopen the school at some point in the near future," Donald wrote. Several teachers currently or formerly affiliated with the academy either declined to comment or did not respond to requests.

Tuition at the school ranged from $5,253 for New Birth members to $6,198 for non-members with more than $1,000 in non-refundable fees, according to the academy's website.

Donald said staff will help students find a new school to attend. Students in grades K-5 may not have to travel far, however, as the DeKalb County School System leases space from New Birth for a charter school, Leadership Preparatory Academy.

The district pays more than $10,000 per month in rent to New Birth covering maintenance, security and insurance costs, according to a lease.

"The DeKalb County School System will coordinate with any students looking to transition from private schools or other schools, as we would with any students transitioning with the start of the new semester," district spokesman Walter Woods said.

Classes resume Jan. 4, two days after the DeKalb schools central office re-opens.

--Staff writer Ernie Suggs contributed to this article.