Massage students left stiff by school’s sudden closure

Angela Bennett wanted to become a massage therapist to ease away her clients’ tension, but earning her massage certificate has given her more stress than she bargained for.

Bennett, a 19-year-old Paradise resident, was one of a handful of massage therapy students left scratching their heads last week when the owner of the Massage Therapy and Healing Arts School suddenly closed up shop.

There’s no official record that Robert Herzbrun ever owned, taught at or operated the school, as he apparently never filed the paperwork that would have officially established it. But the Healing Arts Center did exist, say several students who paid $1,000 for classes and books and a teacher who taught there.

Bennett, who started courses at the school last fall, said she was only a week away from earning her massage certificate. She assumed when she paid her tuition that Herzbrun was who he said he was—a state-licensed massage therapist and teacher operating a state-licensed school.

But, according to the state Bureau of Private, Post-Secondary and Vocational Education, Herzbrun’s Healing Arts Center never officially existed. The bureau, which licenses and regulates private, post-secondary schools like the Healing Arts School, doesn’t have any record of Herzbrun or his school.

Because the school was never licensed, all the work of Bennett and her student-colleagues will likely go to waste. Only course work done at licensed schools is transferable. And that, Bennett said, is worse than losing the money she paid for her classes.

Herzbrun operated out of a small office at the Attitudinal Healing Center in Paradise. Calls to his home and office revealed disconnected phone numbers.

Dale Johnson, who had been teaching reflexology for Herzbrun since he opened the school last spring, said she was just as surprised as everyone else that he suddenly disappeared. Johnson said she last talked to Herzbrun the week before Christmas, when he called to tell her that classes that week would be canceled. She showed up the following week for her scheduled class and was left in the dark.

“He just sort of dropped off he face of the Earth then,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of him ever since, but he’s gone, as far as I know.”

Johnson, who was paid 60 percent of the school’s income, speculated that because enrollment was down this fall (she said there were only two students currently enrolled), Herzbrun might have become “overwhelmed” with the overhead of the school and split.

“I don’t think he’s a dishonest person,” she said. “I just think he got in over his head with the place and didn’t have the infrastructure he needed to keep it going and he bailed. … The sad part is the students that got left out.”

Herzbrun, who reportedly also worked part time at a Paradise mini-market, couldn’t be reached for comment.