George Washington International School, whose website gwisedu.com boasts it has campuses in Florida and California, had formed partnerships with a number of private bilingual schools in the East Asian country to provide curriculum, materials and teachers.
But a Vietnamese school owner told the BBC he had visited the address of the California school only to find it was a conference venue. The Gazette found that most of the gwisedu.com photos of its so-called California campus can also be seen on a website advertising a conference venue for hire.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training has now instructed schools in nine provinces to withdraw from their co-operation agreements with GWIS.
Early in April, rumours on social-media networks suggested that the US side of the operation did not exist. Press stories also questioned the validity of US accreditation documents that GWIS had presented to Vietnamese officials.
The BBC Vietnamese Service reported that these documents came from the Florida Regional Accreditation Council, which was banned from providing accreditation services in the State of Florida in 2012 after it failed to monitor schools.
Screenshot of the George Washington International School website
Gazette investigations found a certificate dated 2011 from the Florida Department of Education stating that GWIS was recognised as a private school.
However, Florida does not accredit or inspect any private schools and simply lists them as active.
In 2017 the bureau responsible for advertising standards requested that statements suggesting the school was approved by Florida’s Department of Education be ‘substantiated, altered or removed from’ the GWIS website.
The Gazette was unable to find any accreditation for GWIS’ second campus in the town of Ontario, California.
The address listed for the Florida campus also does not contain a school, as a Vietnamese client discovered when he visited.
In his video of the visit, available on YouTube, he discovers that the school’s only presence is a private mailbox in a branch of the mailing company Mail & More.
At the time of going to press GWIS was still advertising for teachers to go to Vietnam.
Nobody from GWIS replied when the Gazette contacted them by email about the story.