The administrator who forged a signature on high school diplomas she issued at a Picayune private school said she doesn’t understand some of the criticism being leveled at her. And the pastor of the church where classes were held offered a heated defense.
Candice Downey oversaw Christian Academy of Picayune. Earlier this week, she sent out letters to the parents of graduating students that said she’d forged the signature of the Pearl River County School District superintendent on the diplomas.
On Friday afternoon, Downey told the Sun Herald she’d opened the school as a means to help students in financial trouble who needed to graduate. She said she tried to get accreditation for the school, but when that failed, she said she didn’t know what to do.
“I don’t know why I did it,” she said. “It’s really a bad situation. I don’t understand how it happened.”
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Downey admitted to forging the diplomas, but said it wasn’t her decision. She didn’t name anyone else.
She also claimed she is making financial amends to the parents.
“I’ve fully submitted to authorities — even if it means I’ll be going to jail,” she said.
House of Refuge Pastor Brad Heffner, meanwhile, spoke out in defense of Downey.
“It’s just not fair,” he said. “It’s just not fair.”
Heffner made a distinction between the academy and his church, believing there’s some confusion.
Downey’s classes were held in the church, Heffner said, but the space was rented to her.
“We are not affiliated in any way with the school,” he said. “I want to make that clear.
“The school was never housed there until last year. The diploma did not come from the House of Refuge Church.”
Heffner said Downey is a church acquaintance, and he has forgiven her for what she’s done.
“You should know the other side. Candice has done a lot to help people who are down and out. She has helped them through hard times.”
Asked if he was aware of Downey’s history of trouble with the law, Heffner said: “Yes. I don’t condone what she did but I think people need to look at the bigger picture.
“She did a lot of good for a lot of people.”
He claimed most of the parents weren’t charged tuition.
“Most of those parents didn’t pay a dime, didn’t pay a dime,” he said. “Some only paid half.
“We believe in forgiveness and grace and mercy. When people do wrong, we reprimand them. But we also forgive them.”