Eagleton School to shut for good next week

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Eagleton School will close its doors for good next week, according to state regulators, who on Friday revoked the school's licenses to operate in the wake of abuse scandals.

"Kudos to [the state]," said Jessica Kinney-O'Shea, of Pownal, Vt., parent of a former Eagleton School student. "I'm glad it's happening. I wish it happened sooner."

"It's all kind of a whirlwind," said Wanda Gatsis, of McHenry, Ill., parent to a current Eagleton School student. "I thought at first they were just going to get rid of a few bad apples, but as the news kept coming; I knew it couldn't possibly stay open."

She added, "I started thinking about alternative places for my son."

The school had been under investigation prior to January, when reports of abuse led to a raid at the school and the arrest of five staff members. Those staffers have since been fired and their cases are pending.

Staff members continued to repeatedly violate state probationary terms that resulted from the initial raid and arrests in February and March, including with renewed instances of physical abuse of the school's population of developmentally disabled boys and young men.

Meanwhile, a deeper investigation into prior abuses turned up even more disturbing details about conditions there, authorities said.

Things came to a head when the state Department of Early Education and Care issued an "Order to Protect Children" on March 17, saying it planned to revoke the school's licenses to operate. State workers began putting in long hours finding replacement schools for Eagleton's student population of 67.

Friday's announcement from EEC represented the fulfillment of its March 17 order.

"Effective Friday, April 8, 2016, Eagleton School's residential group care licenses [was] revoked, and its approval as a provider of publicly funded special education services [was] withdrawn," an EEC press statement read. "Most of the students have already moved to new placements, and the Eagleton School will stay open for the remaining students on an emergency basis until April 15, 2016, while they are transitioned to new placements."

Kinney-O'Shea said her 14-year-old son had been subjected to "inhuman" treatment at Eagleton.

State reports detailed instances of Eagleton staff punching, biting and using other force against children and also issuing threats and emotionally abusing students.

Gatsis, on the other hand, said her 19-year-old son progressed there, but she nonetheless knew "stuff was going on" and the staff "lied" to her.

"I felt like I got the run-around all the time," Gatsis said. "I knew there was a big problem."

At a certain point, Gatsis began demanding to view security camera footage taken involving her son and was repeatedly blocked by the school, though such material was always being gathered.

One of the arrested Eagleton School staff members was charged with obstruction of justice and witness intimidation for allegedly altering or deleting security footage taken at the school. The others faced charges of assault and battery on a disabled person.

"The monitoring they said they were doing wasn't happening, or it was happening and then being gotten rid of," Gatsis said. "I was lied to. I had expectations and they weren't being met."

Gatsis said her son will be returned to another school in Illinois.

The state cast a wide net, including in-state and out-of-state schools, when searching for alternatives for Eagleton's present student population. Hillcrest Educational Centers took on a number of the students.

Eagleton School administrators did not respond Friday to requests from The Eagle for comment.

"It's sad," Gatsis said. "I feel horrible for the other parents, let alone the children."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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