Allison Patrick was 20 days from being able to take the state board exams to earn her cosmetology license.
She could have taken the written portion of the exam on Tuesday.
Instead, she drove to class at Frederick School of Cosmetology. Running a few minutes late, she arrived at the school at 403 S. Jefferson St. to see several students carrying bags out of the building.
The school had closed, the other students told her.
“I am just shocked,” said Patrick, 18. “I was so far along and I thought I was finally close to being done, and now it’s just, boom, no, I’m not.”
After more than 15 years, Frederick School of Cosmetology, one of two accredited, private, for-profit cosmetology schools in the county, closed its doors for good Tuesday with no notice to students or staff, several students said.
A spokesperson for the Maryland High Education Commission, which oversees private career institutions including cosmetology schools, confirmed the school’s closing Tuesday afternoon, adding that the school had not given prior notice to the commission about its closing. Schools are required by law to give prior notification of closure.
Students arrived for class Tuesday morning and were told to pack their things because the school had shut down, Patrick and fellow student Leslie Zike said. The students were handed their transcripts but no financial information, Zike and Patrick said.
Minutes later, teachers began to arrive and were told they no longer had jobs, Patrick said.
“I’m really only angry for the teachers,” Patrick said. “Losing your job with no notice is messed up.”
By midafternoon Tuesday, much of the building, which included 15 hairstyling stations, three shampoo stations, five dryer chairs, a pedicure station, six manicure stations and a facial station, had been cleared out.
A man who identified himself as a “part owner” of the school, but declined to give his name, said he had no comment about the school closing other than to say the students would be “taken care of.” Calls and emails to the school for comment were not returned.
Zike and Patrick felt less optimistic, though. Zike attended the school starting in March and said she logged about half of the required 1,500 hours to take her exams to get her license. She said she paid $20,000 in tuition and was told by the owners that the money would not be refunded to her.
Zike said she had been in touch with several state agencies, including FAFSA, to see if transferring would be possible. But the state agencies didn’t have much information for her because she said they were not aware of the school closing, Zike said.
Rhonda Wardlaw, communications director for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, said in an email at 3 p.m. that the commission had not been notified of the school closing. Wardlaw sent a follow-up email at 4:15 saying the commission had confirmed the school had closed.
Schools are required by law to submit student records to the Maryland Higher Education Commission prior to closure, which inherently requires schools to notify the commission of the closing, Wardlaw said. But the commission received no notification ahead of time.
“As the owner of a school, there’s a right way to do business and a wrong way to do business,” said Charles Riser, co-founder of The Temple: A Paul Mitchell Partner School in Frederick. “And closing everything down with no notice is not the right way to do business.”
Once the commission receives formal notification from the institution that it has closed, MHEC posts information about refund options and teach-out options, such as opportunities to transfer schools, on its website within 12 to 24 hours.
If possible, MHEC staff will meet with students to discuss options in light of a school closing. MHEC posts details as they become available in any instance of school closures. A 2019 annual report and data book by MHEC stated that the school had an enrollment of 34 students, and was one of 31 schools with 44 programs in the state.
While students felt stuck in limbo Tuesday, there may be an option for them to continue their education. Riser and his wife, Sharon Riser, met with several students from Frederick School of Cosmetology and are welcoming them into The Temple as transfer students.
The Risers are still working out details with students including costs, and how many hours they will need to work to be able to take their board exams, but the Risers insisted on getting the students into the school as soon as possible.
“Our biggest thing is making sure [the students] know we’re available,” Sharon Riser said. “We want them to get their education,” so students can get out into the workforce.
Many students, like Patrick, had already entered the workforce while they attended school. Patrick works at New York New York Hair Salon and Day Spa. The school closure could jeopardize her employment if she is unable to attend another school, said Kris Fair, who is Patrick’s boss and general manager of the salon.
Patrick immediately contacted Fair upon finding out the school had closed, and the two worked together to figure out their options, including attending The Temple. However, because Patrick finished more than half her schooling, it’s unlikely she’ll receive a refund, she said.
“I’m really thankful I have Kris,” Patrick said. “I’m just hopeful this is a blessing in disguise. What they did was messed up. All of [us students] waited for years to finish this program.”