Christina Perera, the convicted felon whose job leading a Macon private school prompted a new Georgia law, is no longer a fugitive. She was arrested while working in a Florida day care center.
Undercover Lee County, Florida, detectives arrested Perera, 49, on a warrant as she gave them a tour of the school. An investigation by the Department of Children & Families found the Fort Myers day care misrepresented its ownership; had unscreened people working with children; lacked documentation on employees; and didn’t have a license to run the facility, according to a statement by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Some of those complaints echo problems found at Macon’s Progressive Christian Academy, where Perera was running the school until her background as a felon was discovered in 2012. Licensing and ownership issues were later resolved with a Georgia agency.
Florida Department of Children & Families spokeswoman Natalie Harrell said her agency now has “an active child protection investigation into the facility in addition to a licensing investigation.” The school will be closed at least 90 days, and all 20 children there were sent home with their families.
WBBH, a Florida television station known as NBC2, reported that Perera had been running the Daniel’s Academy since July.
Perera had been running what was then known as Progressive Christian Academy despite her history of felony charges that include fraud and theft. State law at the time required in-state and out-of-state background checks for school leaders like her. However, the law at the time did not require out-of-state background checks for other employees. The new state law, prompted by Perera’s actions, was signed in Macon last year by Gov. Nathan Deal and is in effect. It requires national background checks based on fingerprints for all employees of Georgia’s 6,000 child care facilities.
The founder of Progressive Christian Academy, Betty Tolbert, is about two years into a court fight trying to regain control of the school and its assets. Perera was dropped from that lawsuit not long after it was filed because of a federal bankruptcy case. The school operated at 151 Madison St., and the new name for the site, Hope Academy of Macon, has been added to the lawsuit.
WBBH reported that Perera was running the Florida school as Holly Hawkins. She had married John Hawkins in Bibb County, and the Lee County jail records listed her last known address as one in Macon. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office said Perera’s ex-husband, Douglas Perera, would not give his name and refused to cooperate with investigators, who learned he was the self-described “owner” of the building and day care.
Christina Perera is an unlikely school leader for other reasons. Her tattoos include “Love kills slowly” written across her back, with a skull and crossbones, according to Florida Department of Corrections.
In a statement, Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott praised detectives for pursuing the fugitive Perera.
“By delivering Perera to ‘Time Out’ and ensuring she spends time ‘in the corner,’ we avert other victims and shine light on the importance of making sure parents know who is watching their kids,” he said.