Kristian Foden-Vencil | July 6, 2011 | Portland, OR OPB News
Nine former students of a boarding school near Prineville, filed suit in Multnomah County Wednesday.They claim physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their teachers.
Mt. Bachelor Academy was a school for teenagers who had either tangled with the law or had behavior problems at home.Parents paid more than $6000 a month to give their kids a ‘tough love’ education. But the school was closed by the state in 2009 — after the Department of Human Services found what it called "nine substantiated claims of abuse."
The school quickly fired back with a lawsuit.
That case was settled last year. The state withdrew its findings, but still claimed it had a "reasonable cause" to investigate.
The school has not reopened.
Now Kelly Clark, a lawyer for nine students, is going to court for $14 million dollars in damages. The lawsuit lists numerous abuses.
"Unnecessary physical restraint, denial of meals, sleep deprivation, light deprivation, sound torture. They would play the same song, over and over again. Strip searches, forced marches. Forcing the plaintiffs to beat on inanimate objects until their hands bled," Clark said.
Clark concedes that the military may use some similar techniques to break down and then build up new soldiers.
But he argues, these were children, not adults.
"There’s no 15-year-old marines. You at least theoretically signed your own name on the dotted line. And you’re there of your own volition. And I would suggest that even the most aggressive boot camp out there does not have some of the things that we’re alleging here," Clark said.
Clark says he doesn’t plan to rely on the state’s investigation for his lawsuit. He says he’ll build his own case, using the testimony of the students who are now in their 20s and 30s. The state chose not to comment on Wednesday’s lawsuit.
Mt. Bachelor Academy’s attorney issued a statement (see the complete statement below) saying the school never condoned or participated in the mistreatment or deprivation of any students.
It also says the program was specifically designed for troubled students who had failed to progress in other settings. The statement says the program aimed to help kids confront the worst of their behaviors and take ownership of them. The school says its approach proved successful at producing positive, life-changing — and, in some cases, life-saving — results.
While we have not yet had the opportunity to evaluate the allegations in the complaint filed today, we would like to go on record that Mount Bachelor Academy was successful in resolving the dispute with the Oregon Department of Human Services last fall after abundant evidence was collected that showed the allegations of abuse made to the Department were unfounded. DHS initially took action based on students’ allegations, but withdrew its orders, including the suspension of Mount Bachelor Academy’s license, after further information became available. Given the favorable terms of the settlement agreement, we agreed to dismiss our various legal proceedings against the state. We also independently decided to leave Mount Bachelor Academy closed due to the fact that the sudden and erroneous closure of the campus effectively shut the program down the year prior.
For over two decades, Mount Bachelor Academy (MBA) positively changed the lives of over 1,000 troubled young people. MBA was a program specifically designed for troubled students who had failed to progress in other settings. It was designed to help kids confront the worst of their behaviors and take ownership of them, whether that be substance abuse, sexual acting out or other issues. This approach proved successful at producing positive, life-changing – and, in some cases, life-saving – results. The numerous positive testimonials provided by families and students over the years further attest to the success of MBA.
MBA and its parent companies never condoned or participated in the mistreatment or deprivation of any students. As we understand, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit attended MBA prior to its acquisition by a nationally recognized network of therapeutic schools and programs that espouse comprehensive best practices and safety protocols. While we cannot comment on specific allegations from individual students due to HIPAA privacy regulations, we vigorously deny any and all charges of mistreatment. Greg Chaimov