Tom's Blog -- November, 2009
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A License Suspended
 
 
 

We at FamilyLight sm learned recently of the closing of Mt. Bachelor Academy.  Details of the information we have seen and heard about this are available on the following web pages: 

KOHD News (local TV station in Bend, Oregon)

Bend Bulletin (local newspaper in Bend, Oregon)

Note that we cannot independently verify what is in those news items. We are satisfied that Mt. Bachelor Academy has closed. We are satisfied that whether or not Mt. Bachelor Academy was doing what the reports say the state accused them of, the state has at least suspended their operating license.  A statement from Mt. Bachelor Academy is available from Woodbury Reports.

What was especially striking about these news items is that when we look at the reported  allegations against the program, leading to license suspension, almost every item described was standard practice at the emotional growth schools of the 1980s and 1990s.  What the State of Oregon is saying, if the news reports are accurate, is that historic standard emotional growth programming is abusive and illegal.  We point out for emphasis, that except for reference to "sexualized rituals" the particular allegations appear to be a recitation of standard practices in emotional growth schools of the recent past.

It is about time some state took this action!  That is, we would be pleased to see these procedures universally defined as illegal and basis for license revocation;  however if the allegations we are hearing that the program was closed without due process or warning, we do not endorse that kind of high handed bureaucratic conduct.  If it is true that state officials were in communication with management at Mount Bachelor Academy for six months or so, and that management was  cooperatively making changes according to state's concerns, we are far from convinced that the state did not do more emotional harm with the sudden shutdown than any conceivable future risk from Mt. Bachelor Academy.  We also are concerned about an action requiring sudden shutdown without any kind of hearing before an impartial hearing officer or other due process.  What we are endorsing is the determination that the procedures described in the press are unacceptable; we have grave concerns about the state's procedure.   

To be clear, some programs  offer very positive interventions and call that "emotional growth."  Our concern is with sleep depriving "seminars" or other marathon experiences where sleep deprivation might loosen tongues for some, but where the entire process is destructive to physical and emotional health. My concern is about group sessions in which students are expected to attack each other screaming sexually referenced obscenities at each other.  Since brain imaging techniques became available more recently than when these emotional growth practices became fashionable, it is now possible to see what part of the brain "lights up" during any activity.  What lights up when people are screaming at each other in anger?  The parts of the brain associated with anger.  Not the parts associated with rational thought.  What lights up in sleep deprived people?  Very little. 

Where are outcome studies that show that the results of these procedures match or exceed the results of programming with up to date clinical services, emphasis on quality staff-student relationships, and firm limit setting?  If you can answer that with something we have not seen we'll share it with our readers.  But we doubt that it exists.  Where is the justification for peer group sessions that essentially promote verbal bullying?  Where is the justification for sleep deprivation?  Where is the justification for "sexualized rituals performed in front of other students?"  (We confess to ignorance as to what these rituals are)  

We understand why many of these procedures looked good in the 1980s.  But this is 2009.  In the 1980s conscientious people were reacting to the undisputable fact that traditional mental health services were failing our children.  Some of these methods appeared to be impacting kids who would not be helped by mental health services as they were then.  But that is no longer true.  Serious mental health intervention with acting out teens is now common -- and effective.  We can support methods that appear to be harsh when there is a rational basis for believing that they will bring results where lesser methods will not.  There was rational basis to believe that in the 1980s.  In 2009 there is not.

Apologists for this kind of programming point to successes from these methods.  Frankly, even the worst of programs have some successes and can produce parents and even former participants who will endorse the program as "producing miracles."  Let's not get taken in. A few kids would just suddenly "get it" without intervention.  Some just need a change of scenery. Others will clean up their acts solely on the basis of being in a structured environment without access to drugs.  I think there is little evidence that these methods contribute to the gains made by the kids.

Former participants who are now employed by the program may speak of the harsh techniques they experienced as the basis for their success and tell the public that these methods are essential.  This logic seems akin to defense of  initiation rituals by street gangs.

All of that aside, the problem may be that schools and programs that used these methods when we thought they had merit, simply don't actually consider the possibility of not doing these things. 

NATSAP, the professional organization of therapeutic programs claims in its Principles of Good Practice that its member do not engage in such practices.  Specifically, that documents contains the following:

2.1.4.1 Programs/schools will have a clear mission statement, philosophy, and goals.

  • The program/school philosophy, principles, and practices will be consistent with a humane and diverse society.
  • The program/school will provide a nurturing, safe, and structured environment in which program participants are encouraged to develop healthy relationships, to express individual points of view, to accept diversity and to examine their own perspective of the world while respectfully engaging in critical discussion about the perspectives of others.

And

5.1 The program/school shall have a written Behavior Management Plan, which describes:

5.1.1 How human dignity and rights will be respected in the application of behavior management practices. . . .

Our question is, what is NATSAP doing to assure compliance with these provisions? They sound nice.  But it is disingenuous for NATSAP to advertise these principles if they have members that do not meet these standards and nothing is done about it.  We note that on this date, November 4, 2009, Mt. Bachelor Academy is still listed in the NATSAP online directory, suggesting that it was a NATSAP member.

I also point out there are at least two other NATSAP members that raise serious questions in my mind  about compliance with the  Principles of Good Practice -- and common sense.  One member program  (also accredited by The Joint Commission -- formerly known as JCAHO) places newly admitted male students in one large windowless basement room where they remain for at least a few weeks and possibly for several months. They leave that room only to use the bathroom and shower in the adjoining basement room.  Females live under similar conditions, although their room has windows and it is above ground.  We suspect that this treatment would be illegal for prison inmates. 

Another school, also accredited by The Joint Commission and a NATSAP  member allows staff to attempt to detect boys who masturbate in private and  embarrass them.  We hope this is not in front of their peers but we are not confident that it is not.  If so, it raises the issue of school sponsored bullying.  To be fair, we do not know that the school intends peer intervention on this point, but we do believe that what does occur is a totally inappropriate degrading invasion of privacy, sanctioned by management. (We might understand clinical attention to this behavior in the case of a young person with a history of sexually reactive or sexually inappropriate behaviors under the direction of licensed clinician specifically qualified in that area, but that attention, if indicated, should be in private and handled in a manner intended to respect the dignity of the individual involved. But that is not what is happening here. Further note, November 13, 2009: The school we are  writing about has contacted us as a result of this blog entry and has reviewed the relevant policies and practices. We will go into detail on that when we next attend to a review of that school. We are very pleased that according to what the school reports, this issue has been resolved. The language shown, reflects our understanding of the school's policy as it was explained  to us previously by the appropriate person at that school.   We believe that the thoroughness with which this school approached this issue is ultimately a great credit to them.

Mt. Bachelor Academy is (was) owned by Aspen Education which is a part of CRC Health, owned by Bain Capital.  It is our hope that this event will prompt Bain Capital through its subsidiaries CRC Health and Aspen Education to examine its schools, programs, and other facilities closely to ensure that practices such as the State of Oregon alleged are not taking place ever on their watch.

We would like to believe that the organizations like NATSAP and The Joint Commission would actually uphold the standards they profess.  I would like believe that corporations like Aspen Education, CRC Health, and Bain Capital would not be profiting from child abuse.  I would like to believe that responsible health care companies, professional associations, referring professionals, and the peer pressure between programs would be consistent in zero tolerance for this sort of thing. When this kind of think happens, it is a reflection on all of us who operate, invest in, or refer others to schools and programs.  It invites government actions that would limit the ability of the best of programs to help young people effectively.

November 6, 2009: I recently spoke with a person with inside knowledge of  Aspen Education, who shall remain anonymous at this time.  From that source it is my understanding that Aspen Education will publish their side of this story on the web soon. When that happens, we will install a link to it from this web page. The same source advises that whatever criticisms the State of Oregon had regarding Mt. Bachelor Academy, the school was working with state officials to correct any perceived shortcomings. The closure, the source tells me, came without any advance notice that a closure might occur or due process in any form. 

November 11, 2009: As we get more information about this, we remain concerned both about the state's procedures and the judgment of the leadership at Mt. Bachelor Academy.  Mt. Bachelor's spokesperson insists that Mt. Bachelor was "cooperating" and the closure came without warning.  But according to an item on Woodbury Reports, that purports to be from Patti Evans representing Aspen Education,  state authorities in Oregon had notified parents back in March that a sudden closing would be possible.  Please follow the link and read the original version, in order to get the full context here. Arguably, March is a long time ago and if nothing had happened since, the parents had reason to be complacent.  But it does sound like the state was a bit high handed in this. We continue to be unaware of any hearing or due process. 

Regardless of any shortcomings by the state, we continue to be curious why the state's intervention would be needed to motivate the management at Mt. Bachelor Academy and senior management at Aspen Education to ensure that the activities described were not occurring at Mt. Bachelor Academy.  We acknowledge that "emotional growth" groups with screamed obscenities and sleep described marathon "seminars" were once well accepted activities in therapeutic programs.  But that was then and this is now.  Aspen Education talks frequently about a commitment to "best practices" and "evidence based" methods.  If these practices were continuing into this century, as the state alleges, where were the voices of the people at Aspen who talk about "best practices" and "evidence based" method while this was happening.  

While we acknowledge that Aspen Education does operates some very high quality facilities, the brand "Aspen" itself is not one that inspires our confidence.

November 21, 2009:  I am just back from California. I had not gone there to seek information about the Mt. Bachelor situation, but in the process of three days on the ground in Southern California, I happened to come into face to face meetings with two different young men who had to leave Mt. Bachelor as a result of the closing.  I also had an unplanned meeting with the mother of yet another young man who needed to leave at that time.  I do not have time to fill in details at this point but I plan to do so in the near future.  I will say this much.  The more I learn, the more I am disgusted with both the Oregon Authorities who ordered the  school closed and the more I am disgusted with the executives at Aspen Education, CRC Health, and Bain Capital. There are no heroes here.

Problem with Oregon Authorities:  I appreciate, understand, and welcome the initial choice to investigate Mt. Bachelor Academy.  If the procedures that the press has alleged and Aspen Education has not denied were actually in place prior to the onset of the investigation, then we applaud the willingness of Oregon DHS to intervene aggressively and severely penalize Aspen Education, CRC Health, and Bain Capital for having maintained these procedures. (See section below titled "Problem with Aspen Education" for further explanation)  However, there is nothing in the allegations reported by the press that suggests that the students at Mt. Bachelor were in danger at the time the school was ordered to close.  By that time according to all reports available to us, Mt. Bachelor Academy had revised procedures so they were substantially aligned with the expectations of Oregon DHS, and any procedures that Oregon DHS would reasonably have believed presented an immediate danger to the students had been corrected. 

According to press reports, Oregon DHS claims to have taken this action because it found that the students were in danger.   According to the same press reports there was no conceivable reason to believe that at the time the order was issued.  To all appearances, the Oregon authorities acted with utter disregard for the emotional and physical safety and well being of the students remaining at the school.  Without warning, the life of every student on that campus, some of the most emotionally fragile teenagers we can imagine, was turned upside down and irrevocably disrupted. Many had poured heart and soul into producing the first major success of a lifetime.  This opportunity for success was denied completion as over zealous and unconcerned bureaucrats took away what might be the very last chance for many of these students.  The excuse for this was non-compliance with procedures that had been substantially corrected.

Of specific concern is the absence of any due process prior to the license suspension. The last time we heard, under the U.S Constitution, no person or legal entity may be deprived "of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." (See Fourteenth Amendment).  Apparently Oregon DHS does not perceive an obligation to operate within the boundaries of the US Constitution. 

During the week of November 16, I was traveling in California. I had not planned this, but by chance I met two students who needed to leave the school, the parents of one of them, and the parents of a third student.  All three families were severely disrupted by the closing of the school.   One of the students was a month from graduation.  We are hoping to have statement from him to post here.  He is a young man whose lost his birth parents and siblings through a well publicized mass murder.  The Oregon state action caused yet another traumatic loss.

For Oregon DHS to claim that they acted in the interest of students at Mt. Bachelor Academy is transparently false. We wish total success to the many parents and students who are suing the State of Oregon and hope that they will be able to attack the personal assets of the individual bureaucrats responsible for this travesty perpetrated on the students of the school by the very people charged with responsibility to prevent such abuses in the State of Oregon.

Problem with Aspen Education:  This is very simple. With respect to the matters alleged that Aspen has not, to our knowledge, denied, the question I have for management at Aspen/ CRC, is,  "What were you thinking?"    

The allegations against Mt. Bachelor claim behaviors occurred at Mt. Bachelor that in the 1980s would have been routine at any emotional growth school influenced by the Synanon and/ or Cedu tradition.  I was never a fan of Cedu  nor of broadly applying Synanon methods to kids, even then, but their programming was widely accepted in the 1980s when Mt. Bachelor was founded.  Part of the reason for the widespread acceptance of the harsh methods in this tradition was the utter failure of mental health services then available to deal with the perceived crisis in adolescent substance abuse.  However by the 1990s, the better residential treatment centers and therapeutic schools were integrating quality mental health procedures with the better qualities of the emotional growth programs.   In the latter half of that decade, newly developed brain imaging techniques had led to research that discredited many of the Cedu initiated Synanon  influenced emotional growth techniques like sleep deprived therapy sessions and groups marked by shouting obscenities.  If, as the state claimed, these were still in place at Mt. Bachelor Academy in 2009, how can that  reconciled with the alleged competence of  Aspen Education / CRC Health management?  Long before 2009, Aspen Education and CRC Health were bragging about their attention to evidence based methods and best practices.  Just exactly what do these methods have to do with evidence based methods and best practices? Is Bain Capital meeting its fiduciary responsibility to investors by keeping this management in place? Has Aspen Education  updated procedures at Academy at Swift River, showing they understand the issues, yet leaving the harsh methods of the Cedu emotional growth tradition in place at Mt. Bachelor Academy?

The allegations from the state allege that "the Mount Bachelor Academy program abused a child in 2007 by requiring the child to engage in sexualized role play in front of staff and peers." (from the website of KTVZ). 

Students defending Mt. Bachelor have told us that no one was ever required to do something like that but in some situations students would bring role plays of this kind into a group voluntarily. The same students have described some very raunchy sexualized demonstrations that were voluntary on the part of the students.  It might be that the students were asked to act out something from their past.  If so, why was this permitted?  What impact would this have on sexually traumatized people in the group?  That is, if another person in the group had been sexually traumatized in a manner reminiscent of the role play what impact would that have?  What impact would it have on the person doing the acting, even if doing so voluntarily?  What about the other students in the group, taking part in a student initiated role play?  

We do not have first hand knowledge of what actually happened.  We have seen the allegations.  We note that what is alleged would not be surprising at an emotional growth school in the 1980s.   We note that officials at Aspen Education / CRC Health have not denied that some of the activities alleged that would have been typical in the 1980s might have actually occurred until the state began the investigation.  We note that Aspen Education / CRC Health has used the pressure for tighter regulation of schools and treatment programs as a marketing ploy, suggesting that people should use Aspen Education / CRC Health facilities so that their children will be safe, as opposed to other independent facilities. 

We at FamilyLight sm would question how many others of the Aspen Education / CRC Health  western programs have similar problems.  While the problems might not be exactly the same, we would like to see Utah officials take a very close look at Turn-About Ranch, if Aspen Education / CRC Health will not make improvements there on its own initiative. 

It is the continuation of the harsh methods of the "emotional growth" programs of the 1980s (among other things) that motivates the pressure for more regulation. Aspen Education / CRC Health has tried to present itself as a leader in challenging the more aggressive regulation proposals.   Aspen Education / CRC Health needs to make sure its own schools and programs do not exemplify the need for tighter regulation.

I want to add that I have received one email in response to this blog entry.  It was not from a person I know although the name at the bottom of the email was a name that has been published as one of the people who has taken the lead in calling for a crackdown on Mt. Bachelor.   I emailed a request for positive identification from the person who sent the email.  I received no further response. So we will not publish it. We need to know who you are if you want to contribute.

We are encouraged that at least one state have labeled the emotional growth programming of the 1980s abusive and incompatible with continued licensing.  But we believe the manner in which Oregon DHS went about this was at least as abusive as anything that has happened at Mt. Bachelor Academy.  Huge fines and temporary suspension of the right to admit new students would have been actions we would have applauded if the allegations had been affirmed in a properly constituted due process hearing.  But the suggestion that current students were in danger at the time of the order to close, is transparently incompatible with other findings of Oregon DHS. 

Tom Croke  

Official statement from Mt. Bachelor Academy,  as published in Woodbury Reports

Aspen Education's statement to referring professionals on November 24, 2009

Woodbury Reports links to prior news items about Mt. Bachelor Academy  

Review Page for Mt. Bachelor Academy

Review of Aspen Education Group

The Outrage of Aspen Marketing

Feedback is invited. We will publish feedback in good taste, consistent with our standards.  Email FamilyLightResponse@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: No  program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation.  When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree.  When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source.  We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance.  It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines.  Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.

Last updated  December  8, 2009; additions to links on December 13, 2009

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