Eagleton School fires 4 in wake of student abuse investigation, hires top consultant to assess operations

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Officials at Eagleton School announced on Thursday that the school has fired four employees in the wake of a recent student abuse investigation.

In addition, the school said it has retained a consultant to assess Eagleton's clinical, educational and residential areas and make any necessary changes.

The school did not release the names of those fired or suspended. Eagleton said two were administrators and two were direct care staff.

Two employees who were charged last week were among those fired, according to the Associated Press. Three remain on suspension.

Last week, five employees were arraigned on charges in connection with incidents in which students were allegedly abused. Four of the employees were charged with assault and battery on a disabled person. One of those also was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. A fifth employee faces charges of intimidating a witness and obstruction of justice. All have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Fifty state, local and federal law enforcement agents carried out a search of the school on Jan. 30, which resulted in the arrests. Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless said additional arrests may be made as an investigation into student abuse by staff continues.

The private residential school is for boys and young men with special needs, including autism and Asperger syndrome and other cognitive, behavioral, and developmental disabilities.

Meanwhile, Eagleton School said it continues to operate and is taking "voluntary steps" to "counteract the potentially destabilizing effects and unintended consequences of the current investigations" and "to enhance its programs and the safety, care and education it is providing to students."

"In the spirit of full cooperation and transparency with the investigation, Eagleton School has retained a highly respected, distinguished former chief executive officer of a special needs private school serving similar students, Charles Conroy, Ed.D., as a consultant to immediately begin the process of evaluating, organizing and implementing any recommended systems changes in the areas of personnel management," the school said in a statement.

"Conroy will be charged with reviewing the clinical, educational and residential dimensions of the school, as well as Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and Individual Service Plans (ISPs), and communications and management effectiveness throughout the school."

Conroy was executive director/CEO of the Doctor Franklin Perkins School in Lancaster from 1987 until his retirement in 2015. He is currently a member/manager of Charles P. Conroy Consulting, LLC, an author and former adjunct professor at Fitchburg State and Clark universities.

Eagleton also has hired NAPPI International, which stands for Non-Abusive, Psychological and Physical Intervention, "to immediately assess Eagleton's behavior management training needs and to implement direct re-training regarding behavior management, particularly in light of the new state regulations ... on restraints which took effect January 1."

Eagleton has had the NAPPI system for about 20 years, the school said. NAPPI has a "national reputation in behavior management, including de-escalation of potential violent behavior and alternatives to restraint." Eagleton's founder and executive director, Bruce Bona, is minority shareholder in NAPPI, according to the school.

"At the same time, the school is taking steps to insure that all IEPs and ISPs are continually and fully implemented, staffing levels and required staff-to-student ratios are enhanced or maintained, that all students are safe, and that the staff's training needs are met."

State reviews in 2007 and 2013 found issues with the school's staffing levels and training, though a 2015 follow-up showed the school had made corrections.

"Our students have always been, and remain, our primary concern," said Bona in the statement. "We are doing everything possible to ensure the continuation of their quality education and care."

Eagleton treats 73 boys ages 9 to 22 hailing from 12 different states and one from the Cayman Islands, and maintains a staff of 156. Tuition for each of these students range between $141,000 and $149,000. The 44-acre campus includes nine separate residences — regulated by the state Department of Early Education and Care — and educational programs regulated by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

To date, no regulatory action has been taken against the school, but it is under regulatory supervision by the state.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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