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News & Views - Feb, 1996 Issue #38 

A Special for Woodbury Reports
by: Dave Laird, Investigative Reporter
Spokane, Washington

The felony charges against the owner of Rocky Top Academy are far from being heard in a court of law, according to Tom "Finucane" Gregory's attorney, Chuck Watson, speaking from his office in Bozeman, Montana. As in any legal case of this scope, there is the flood of legal documents which the case has thus far generated. According to Watson, he is being overwhelmed by that and the recalcitrance on the state's part to return certain documents, including the school's computer, in order that he can better prepare Gregory's defense. 

Gregory currently is facing felony charges and Rocky Top Academy has been completely shut down by authorities. This grim reality is aggravated by questions regarding the adequacy of the Search Warrant and conditions under which it was obtained, and the manner in which the police department(s) handled the raid on Rocky Top Academy during the hours just after the warrants were served. 

Complicating matters further, attorney Watson says the Anaconda Police Department is holding Gregory's personal computer which contains all the student records, including the tax records of Rocky Top personnel employed by the school. Lacking the accounting data, neither Watson nor Gregory have been able, thus far, to mail out employees' W2 forms, as required by the Internal Revenue Service, thus adding yet another layer of legal complication to Gregory's plight. The ex-students also have not received transcripts of credit earned so their academic status is also remaining up in the air. 

How does one prepare for the eventuality, however obscure, that any alternative learning institution could become subject to arrests, removal of personal property and closure of the school? 

According to education professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds, the answers are administrative, rather than legal, and relate more to community awareness rather than legal wherewithal. 

Being administratively sound requires, above all else, good business practices including excellent communications skills within local communities. Here are some examples: 

1. While the use of computerized accounting and record-keeping is strongly encouraged, it is imperative to keep hard copy records of all critical transactions, and keep backup copies of these transactions off-site, out of harm's way. 

2. Establish good communications skills within the community. Fear leads to distrust, and the only viable method of counteracting distrust is education. Communicate well within your communities, including a well-orchestrated public- relations effort, as well as contingency planning. 

Based upon the facts, anyone in alternative education could easily fall prey to the same set of conditions that shut down Rocky Top Academy and put Tom Gregory in legal limbo. You could be next. 

Woodbury Reports will be keeping you abreast of Tom Gregory's case as it wends its way through the legal system. A Tom "Finucane" Gregory Legal Defense Fund has been established by the National Association For the Legal Support of Alternative Schools (N.A.L.S.A.S.) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For information, call 505-471-6928. 

Copyright 1996, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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