February 11, 2005

School closes while defending against abuse lawsuit

Press Release
CEDU Education

(Feb. 10, 2005) NAPLES, Idaho - CEDU Education today announced the closure of Rocky Mountain Academy in Naples, Idaho.

"Over the past three years, the management of CEDU Education has labored tirelessly in the search for effective leadership for Rocky Mountain Academy and in implementing a curriculum that would deliver only the best emotional growth education for the students. In many respects, we were successful. However, we failed to recruit and place at Rocky Mountain Academy a school director with the skills to manage a cohesive group of staff. Our leadership shortfalls created a negative marketplace opinion that made it difficult to build a census for successful school operation," explained CEDU Education President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Naples.

Naples added, "Most recently, we have received resignations from several key staff members. It would be difficult to replace these positions in a timely manner and to allow us the assurances that our students would be safe and continue to receive a solid emotional growth education. That being said, it is with the best interest of the students of Rocky Mountain Academy to close the school and to find alternative placements for them."

Rocky Mountain Academy presently has 19 students enrolled in the program. The company is committed to finding the right program for each of the displaced students and to assist families in relocating their child.

CEDU Education's boarding schools, therapeutic wilderness program, and transitional living program are located in California, Idaho, and Vermont.

October 29, 2004

Suits allege abuse at two schools

Idaho Spokesman Review
by Kevin Taylor

More than two dozen parents and former students at Rocky Mountain Academy and Boulder Creek Academy - two expensive private schools for troubled teens - have filed four lawsuits claiming a pattern of neglect and abuse inflicted upon kids by staff or by other students running out of staffers' control.

The four lawsuits can be grouped into two categories, Todd Reed, attorney for the plaintiffs, said Thursday. Two of the suits recount allegations of misconduct and breach-of-contract issues from Boulder Creek Academy near Bonners Ferry in the mid- to late-1990s; the others concern students more recently enrolled at Rocky Mountain Academy, which is near Naples, Idaho. Boulder Creek typically houses 70 students. Rocky Mountain, which typically enrolls nearly 40 students, currently has 30.

Among the allegations listed in the lawsuits filed at the Bonner County Courthouse in Sandpoint:

-- One boy was forced to dig a grave, crawl into a coffin in the grave and have dirt thrown on it by staff.

-- A girl was called "fatty" by staff even as she was being counseled by other staffers for bulimia.

-- Another girl was called a "whore" and forced by staffers to wear a derisive sign advertising oral sex.

Another suit alleges a student at RMA was hazed, beaten and insulted constantly and with impunity by other students because staffers were not in the dormitories and didn't seem to care enough to stop the beatings when they did find out.

"We believe these allegations have no basis," Julia Andrick, marketing and communications director for CEDU Family of Services Inc., the parent company for both Rocky Mountain and Boulder Creek academies. "The charges are groundless and we are going to go ahead and litigate as appropriate."

Reed said the lawsuits focus on poor staffing levels, poorly trained staff and a lack of supervision that led to verbal and physical abuse.

"We are not asserting that all staff are bad at Rocky Mountain Academy - my impression is that fine people work there," Reed said. "We are asserting there is a struggle between two differing thought processes - the old CEDU and the new CEDU."

The old CEDU was verbally abusive, he said, while the newer approach "focuses more on the therapeutic process." The schism, Reed said, is problematic: "My concern is there is a lack of direction. From our perspective, the problem was RMA was going through school directors so quickly nothing has been consistent."

Andrick said Rocky Mountain Academy in September hired its third director in 10 months and fourth since 2001. She was unable to provide numbers on staff turnover, but did agree the approach at the schools has been changing in recent years because the students are changing.

Students at Rocky Mountain Academy today typically are dealing with drug or alcohol problems in addition to the types of behavioral or emotional issues - "school failure, low self-esteem, families in turmoil" - that drew students in the past, Andrick said.

More staffers are drug and alcohol counselors than in previous times when students were typically taken into the wilderness to either perform various tasks or suffer "natural consequences," Andrick said, citing the example of getting wet if a student re-fused to pitch a tent on a hiking trip.

"It's not a schism. It's been an evolution," she said. "We are changing with the times and changing with society's needs."

The lawsuits allege families typically pay $5,500 a month - sometimes up to $16,000 for special six-week programs - with promises from CEDU that their children are "cared for, taught and treated by high-quality staff."

The high price should not equate to students being forced to use scissors to cut large areas of lawn in July while dressed in winter clothing, be routinely told by staffers "your parents don't love you," or to suffer sexual assaults from other students while staffers, according to the court papers, did nothing.

CEDU is no stranger to such lawsuits. In November 2002, the company paid a $300,000 settlement to two former students who had alleged CEDU hired poorly trained, abusive staff. The students said the situation was what led to a student riot at Rocky Mountain Academy in 1997. Five students and staffers were injured in the riot.

Reed said a second lawsuit against CEDU in North Idaho also was settled, but the amount of the award has been sealed.

"You pay outrageous amounts of money and send your kid to a location where it is represented that your child is safe," Reed said, "And instead your child is exposed to alcohol and drugs and sex at that location, and couple that with abusive actions directed at children by staff," showing that the academy staffers were poorly trained and supervised, he said.

"We keep detailed records on students and their activities and therapy and counseling and academic records," Andrick said. "We do have information and we do feel these are groundless lawsuits. It's sad, but we will battle it out in court."

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