Shockwaves are being felt across the nation after revelations of persistent physical abuse of students at a Delaware County reform school for boys were uncovered by a Philadelphia Inquirer investigation.
Now young people from around the country and Pennsylvania are being pulled from Glen Mills School, reputedly the oldest reform and boarding school in the nation, as the school faces investigations by state and federal authorities over allegations of physical abuse stretching back decades and allegedly covered up by school leaders.
“The recent reporting is incredibly disturbing and we are reviewing those reports very closely,” Ali Fogarty, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of HUman Services, said via email on Wednesday. “DHS will work to do whatever it must to stop this culture of silence, intimidation, and mistreatment of children.
DHS is “actively monitoring the facility and student safety,” Fogarty added, as an investigation is ongoing into an August 2018 incident in which a 17-year-old male from Philadelphia was allegedly severely attacked by two counselors, reportedly over perceived disrespect during a group discussion. The two counselors were later charged with aggravated assault by Delaware County DA.
But the most recent Inquirer investigation, “Beaten, then Silenced,” published online last week, alleged that the school hired bodybuilders instead of teachers to serve the juvenile delinquents who were boarded there. Attacks dating back decades were documented, some completely random, others over minor slights from students to counselors. Members of the student body, all male and aged 12 to 21, describe suffering severe injuries and being left traumatized by the violence.
“Glen Mills disputes virtually all the allegations and conclusions reported in the article, but we are willing to allow external reviewers to reach their own conclusions,” a spokeswoman for the school said via email. “The Glen Mills School is committed to an independent and thorough analysis of our current operations. That is why prior to the release of the Inquirer article, we announced the formation of a panel composed of highly-regarded experts in their field to review our operations and identify areas where we can do even better.”
The panel will be cochaired by Leslie M. Gomez, Esq. a former Juvenile Court Unit chief at the Philly DA’s office, and Dr. Elfreda Massie, a former superintendent of Washington DC public schools.
“It is imperative that we grant this highly respected, independent panel the time needed to do their work and provide their assessment,” Glen Mills’ spokeswoman said.
But this week alone, 70 boys, nearly one-third of the remaining student body, were reportedly being removed from the school – including boys from Philly, Erie County Pennsylvania, as well as Michigan, California, and Texas, the Inquirer reported.
Since the July 23, 2018 incident, Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) has ceased sending Philly juveniles to Glen Mills. At that time, 143 Philly youths were at the reform school; by this week, that number had been reduced to 46.
“We have and continue to demand better treatment of youth. We are working with the court on evaluating any future use of Glen Mills,” a DHS spokeswoman said via email.
DHS noted that since 2015, they have reduced the number of youth delinquents in “congregate care” or group homes by 43 percent.
Philly DHS Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa said in a statement they are “committed to expanding community-based services so that youth can stay close to home.”
The school is still under investigation by Delco DA Copeland, at least for the July 2018 incident, and also apparently under federal investigation. A U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division letter to the Inquirer referenced “an ongoing law enforcement proceeding” without sharing any further details.
The Pennsylvania Education Law Center previously released a report on boarding facilities which found Glen Mills averaged “one incident of child maltreatment every other month from December 2013 to January 2017,” according to its legal director Maura McInerney.
“This ongoing abuse cannot be tolerated, and yet it has been: the state has failed to revoke a single Glen Mills certificate of compliance while children have been forced to live in fear and parents have been silenced,” McInerney said in a statement. “The abuse, cover-ups, and placement of children atGlen Mills must end now.”
Founded in 1826 as the Philadelphia House of Refuge, Glen Mills relocated to Delaware County in 1892. The school openly promotes itself as using a method of rewarding students with status for reporting on misconduct by other students. In 1996, the school’s director from 1975-2007, Sam Ferrainola, described the method to a Tampa Bay Times reporter as “borrowed directly from street gangs. … they readily understand the power of peer pressure and the rewards of status. The big difference between a street gang and Glen Mills is that students aren’t allowed to lay a hand on each other.”