Eagleton School sanctioned for alleged efforts to "avoid investigation"
This story has been modified to correct the title of Lauren Greene; she is assistant chief of staff at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
GREAT BARRINGTON — Citing "grave concerns" about Eagleton School's ability to comply with health and safety regulations, the school has been placed on probation by the state.
In a notice of sanctions dated Feb. 17, the state Department of Early Education and Care noted that it had been monitoring the school for some time.
"EEC has become aware ... of a pattern of physical and emotional abuse of residents by some Eagleton staff," according to the notice. "Over the past three months, there appears to have been a conscious decision by Eagleton's administration not to report the scope and extent of residents' injuries to the [EEC] and other state agencies to avoid investigation."
The notice acknowledged that the school has made several steps toward "corrective action" by reviewing and reorganizing operations and firing staffers accused of abuse.
The school for boys and young men with special needs came under fire and scrutiny following the accusations earlier this year of abuse by several staff members.
Five staffers were arrested and arraigned in Southern Berkshire District Court on Feb. 1 after 50 investigators from various agencies executed search warrants at the school days before. The search warrant uncovered at least seven instances of alleged abuse including staff "body-slamming," a resident, requiring hospitalization sometime in 2015.
The EEC report includes several detailed accounts of specific allegations of abuse at the school. Some of the incidents cited in the report are among those under investigation in the criminal case against the staffers.
Those allegations include physical abuse of students such as kicking one and hitting another's head against a table and attempts to hinder investigative efforts by destroying surveillance video. All of the defendants were given dates in March for their pretrial hearings.
In the notice of probation sent to Executive Director Bruce Bona, the EEC has required Eagleton to "demonstrate it is able to provide a healthy and safe residential school environment and maintain compliance with state regulatory requirements."
The specific conditions of the probation include a prohibition on the acceptance of new students into the program and a required notification to parents of existing students the school is in probationary status.
Attorney Kathleen McCormick, who is representing the school, said on Monday those notices went out as required and the necessary reports are being filed. She said the school continues to cooperate with the state in this matter.
Lauren Greene, assistant chief of staff for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), confirmed the school has been responding to the conditions laid out in the letter and it continues to be monitored.
Greene said the EEC can decide whether to renew Eagleton's licenses when they expire in mid-May or can continue with probation beyond that date or allow provisional approval or other disciplinary conditions.
"If EEC revokes or does not renew Eagleton's residential license, however, the school will no longer be able to operate as a (DESE) approved private special education school," Greene said via email Monday afternoon.
The state cited several specific allegations of abuse:
• A June 2013 incident in which an off-duty staff member entered the school and punched a resident in the head and punched them again when they hit the floor.
• An April 2014 incident in which two staff members used "inappropriate behavior management techniques," when one staff member shoved a resident by the throat, pushing them over a low railing and a second staff member shoved the same resident with both hands.
Those incidents and others prompted the state to conduct additional trainings for staff and administrators on "transparency, incident reporting and internal investigations."
The results of the training did not produce the desired results, according to the EEC.
"After receiving EEC's technical assistance and training in 2014 and 2015, Eagleton continued to fail to timely report incidents pursuant to EEC's regulations and failed to complete its investigation reports accurately and completely," part of the notice of sanctions reads.
The notice goes on to detail other allegations of abuse including:
• On May 4, 2015 a resident was swearing at a staff member and that person grabbed the resident's head and slammed it against a metal picnic table, leading to a split lip and chipped tooth, requiring medical and dental treatment.
• On Oct. 17, 2015, a resident was injured by a staff member using excessive force during an unapproved restraint technique, resulting in "serious injuries to the resident's face and head." The incident was not reported until two days later and the staff member involved was assigned to a new building to work with other residents.
• On Nov. 15, 2015, a resident was injured when two staff members restrained him and the incident was not reported to the state for two days. According to the notice of sanctions, the resident was more seriously injured than previously reported and the school originally said there was no video footage of the incident. That contention was found to be false and surveillance video shows that a staff member struck the resident "two or three times," during the restraint.
• On Jan. 29, 2016, a report was filed on behalf of a resident claiming he had been stuck in the eye with a finger during a restraint. The state determined the resident suffered more serious injuries than were reported by the school including blackened and swollen eyes.
Under the order by the EEC, the school also is required to allow an independent reviewer to evaluate the school's student restraint training to determine if more staff training in such techniques is warranted.
The school recently hired Dr. Charles F. Conroy, longtime director and chief operating officer of the Franklin School in Lancaster, a residential school similar to Eagleton, to "immediately begin the process of evaluating, organizing and implementing any recommended systems changes in the areas of personnel management," according to a statement from the school released earlier this month.
Other conditions of probation include the filing of daily reports with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and reporting:
• Complaints of abuse or neglect by the school or a staff member.
• Any action taken against the school by a federal, state or local agency.
• Any legal proceeding taken against the school or employees regarding care or education of students.
• Any hospitalization of a student due to injury at the school.
• Any student injury resulting from a motor vehicle accident during transport by school staff. *Serious injuries due to a restraint.
• Notification via the school's public website of the change in the school's status.
The state will also conduct "announced and unannounced," visits to the school.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
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