State officials have told parents to remove their children from a central Oregon boarding school after investigators found students were subject to inappropriate sexual role-play, public humiliation and physical deprivation.
Following a seven-month investigation, the Oregon Department of Human Services has temporarily suspended Mount Bachelor Academy‘s license. Investigators found nine substantiated allegations of child abuse and neglect as well as numerous licensing violations.
Their conclusion: “There are conditions present that pose a serious danger to child safety.”
The private school caters to troubled teens 14 to 17 1/2 years old. It has operated near Prineville for more than 20 years, drawing students from all over the world. Tuition runs $6,400 a month, and students typically stay 14 to 16 months.
State officials released a summary of the investigation Tuesday in response to a public records request from The Oregonian, but they refused to respond to questions about the school.
The summary chronicles incidents dating from 2007 to this year. They involved five students and often centered on the “emotional growth” workshops required of every student. The report says what those five students experienced was “substantially consistent” with the experiences of all teens in the program.
State investigators found students were required to engage in sexualized role-play and other humiliating activities, such as re-enacting past abuse, in front of staff and peers. Students were deprived of sleep or use of the bathroom.
According to investigators, discipline at the school included so-called “bans” requiring students to go a week or longer without being allowed to talk, touch or look at others.
Sharon Bitz, Mount Bachelor’s executive director, did not return phone calls from The Oregonian on Tuesday. Interviewed in April, soon after the investigation started, Bitz called the allegations groundless and said the school has helped more than 2,000 students since it opened in 1988.
It’s not clear how many students were at the school this week. It is licensed for up to 125 students. State records show 88 students and 77 staff were there in March.
Several former students say the state’s findings mirror their experiences.
At the same time, other former students and parents say Mount Bachelor helped change young lives.
Jim Bianchin‘s son attended the school from 2005 to 2007.
“They helped open his eyes to a lot of destructive behaviors that he had,” Bianchin of Redding, Calif., said Tuesday. “At no time did we observe or hear of any inappropriate behavior or policies.”
The state has given Mount Bachelor 90 days to correct a list of violations or see its license permanently revoked.
In the meantime, parents with children at the school are scrambling.
“I’m in shock,” said Nancy Bishop, who has a 14-year-old daughter at Mount Bachelor.
Bishop lives in Southern California and said she received the call from Oregon officials at 6 p.m. Monday telling her she had to make arrangements to get her daughter. Bishop didn’t know about the ongoing investigation.
Before catching a plane early Tuesday, Bishop asked whether the state would make counselors or others available to help parents and students. The answer was no.
“I feel like they pulled the rug out from us,” she said. “The last thing these kids need is to be yanked around.”
READ – An Oregon School for Troubled Teens Is Under Scrutiny, Time Magazine, May 15, 2009
READ – Mount Bachelor Academy Complaint and Order to Correct, 11 2 2009 Oregon State DHS
READ – Mount Bachelor Academy Background Information, Oregon DHS
READ – Mount Bachelor Academy Emergency Suspension Order, 11 2 2009, Oregon State DHS