A number of parents, who collectively paid hundreds of thousands of dirhams in fees to a private school in Ajman that never opened, are now struggling to find a place for their children at other schools in the country.
While some of the 1,500 parents managed to enrol their children elsewhere, other families were not as lucky.
“I don’t think I left one school out in the surrounding area that my wife and I didn’t go to, trying to enrol our 12th-grade son,” said one father, Abu Mohammad.
Authorities would not confirm how much money had been collected from parents but if each paid only their child's Dh500 ($136) booking fee to reserve the place at school, it would amount to Dh750,000.
“Some paid Dh6000 or Dh10,000 and others paid more than Dh15,000,” said Mr Mohammad, from Egypt.
He paid the first instalment and signed cheques with the value of the remainder, while other families paid varying amounts.
“I managed to find another school for my child but ended up paying large sums of cash,” he said.
The father also said other parents told him they were not able to retrieve official documents they had submitted to the school during registration, which were needed to enable enrolment at another school.
“I, for one, looked the school up on the Ministry of Education’s website and it was there, I don’t know what happened,” Mr Mohammad said.
Ajman Police recently arrested the school owner in his 40s, from Syria, after complaints from parents that were lodged one week after the school year began.
“The man did not have a licence from the educational regulator and was denied a permit to run the school because it did not meet requirements,” said Capt Mohammed Al Shaali, head of Al Jurf Police Station in Ajman.
“He did not abide by the decision that declined to officially open the school for not meeting requirements and announced the opening of registration for parents, making tempting offers to attract the largest possible number of students.”
“He took the money himself, signed the receipts, then closed the school and fled.”
Ajman department of economic development said it closed the school — which is not under its authority, it said — for failing to obtain the necessary legal permits.
Parents read about the school, in the Al Hamidiyah area, online before they headed to its premises to register their children and meet its staff and owner.
“I saw advertisements about the school on Facebook and received more about it on WhatsApp,” Mr Mohammad said.
He transferred his son from a public school and had to pay about Dh22,000 to settle a Dh6,000 balance from last year’s fees and the whole sum for the current school year.
“The bigger problem is that my son is missing his last year in school and even if we managed to enrol him at a new school, he has already missed much that will affect his score.”
Mustafa Adel, from Egypt, paid Dh5,500 in registration and first-term fees for his son, a grade-six pupil.
“Parents only resorted to [going to the] police about five days ago, when some of us went to the school and found the department of economic development sticker stating it was closed,” he said.
Two more parents who spoke anonymously said they did not think the owner had intended to swindle parents out of their money.
“He could have simply fled the country after he took the money but he kept sending messages to parents saying the school will open soon,” said one.
Investigations are continuing and police officers in Ajman are working to recover the collected fees to reimburse parents.