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Opinion & Essays - July, 2001 Issue #83 

Review of Recent Developments
at Alldredge Academy
Issued from Alldredge Academy on June 26, 2001

[This page is scoring high in some search engines, and since the material is dated and therefore misleading, the following links bring this topic up to date and cover subsequent events - Lon Sept. 29, 2003.]

Alldredge Academy is and will continue to be operational; we have never been closed, and our work with adolescents and families has not been disrupted. This letter provides a brief summary of Alldredge Academy’s present circumstances, as well as an all- important historical overview of our dealings with the State of West Virginia. This history is indispensable to an accurate understanding of the issues central to the recent flurry of activity.

January of 1999 L. Jay Mitchell and Lance Wells, the founders of Alldredge Academy, sought legal direction from Darrel McGraw, the Attorney General of West Virginia. The question presented was: through what Department should Alldredge seek licensure? The two most likely candidates were the Department of Education (DOE) or the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR). At that time we were advised that our program would be more appropriately supervised by WV-DOE than by DHHR.

This advice may have been informed, at least in part, by a recent West Virginia State Supreme Court opinion, DHHR v. Gayle Clark and Miracle Meadows, a September 2000 Term Slip Opinion No. 27915, which is available on the W.Va. Supreme Ct. Website. That decision dealt with the authority of the DHHR to investigate school activities in an abuse and neglect case. Miracle Meadows is a Seventh Day Adventist parochial boarding school for children and adolescents with special behavioral and educational needs. The Court found that Miracle Meadows was a school, hence not in the regulatory jurisdiction of DHHR. The Court also found that DHHR had acted outside its authority requesting file information on Miracle Meadows’ students. Another West Virginia decision from the Federal District Court, Known as the Gibson Decree, questioned the DHHR’s authority in taking students into state custody, and placing them in foster care.

The first students enrolled at Alldredge May 2, 1999. Prior to their enrollment we had secured, per instruction of WV-DOE, approval to operate as an independent school under Exemptions A and K. These Exemptions provide that students attending Alldredge will be regarded as enrolled full-time in a secondary school satisfying the school attendance requirements of WV and their home states. Although West Virginia has legislation enabling the state to accredit non- public schools, the DOE has not yet set up a system for such accreditations. Hence, at the beginning we initiated an independent accreditation process through the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges (NCASC). That organization is consistently recognized to have one of the most thorough accreditation processes in the industry. The formal accreditation process began, after Alldredge completed the mandatory two years of operation, with the submission of operational reports. The next step in the process, an on-site visit by a team appointed by NCASC, is scheduled for July 2001. Our work with NCASC has been pleasant, rewarding, and productive. We look forward to the team’s visit.

In mid-February 2001 we reported a fatality in the program to the WV State Police and, per their instructions, to the DHHR. An agent of the DHHR joined the State Police and the State Coroner in an investigation of the incident. The Coroner returned a finding of Death by Hanging, Suicide. Shortly thereafter, we were received an unannounced visit from five agents of DHHR demanding unrestricted access to all students, staff, records, and materials. Our concern over our ethical, contractual, confidentiality, and privacy obligations to our students and their parents, as well as our concerns over the DHHR’s jurisdiction, lead us to resist their demand until such time as the legal questions could be addressed.

We then began to work with a Committee within DHHR to help them draft legislation to provide appropriate oversight capabilities for programs like Alldredge. We also worked through the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs to collect models of legislation from other states where there are wilderness programs and emotional growth schools. The work with this committee has been proceeding satisfactorily and amicably.

May 31, 2001 an agent of DHHR delivered a report, dated April 29, 2001, of the results of their investigation of the death in February 2001. Six days later, June 6, 2001, the same agent delivered a Directive of Closure effective June 18, 2001. The Directive alleged that the students at Alldredge were in imminent danger. On June 11, 2001, Judge Charlie King Stayed the Closure Order. That Order also provided that the DHHR and Alldredge cooperate in formulating an operating agreement for a final resolution, or until such time as Circuit Court Judge Bloom could hear the case. Interim Operating Agreements have been worked out between Alldredge and DHHR. Friday June 23, 2001 the Court approved the Agreements providing for Alldredge Academy’s operation. This document includes a copy of the interim Operating Agreements.

On June 11-13, 2001, a Clinical Psychologist, with background in wilderness programs, conducted an independent evaluation of the program and procedures. [A complete copy of Dr. Scott Bandoroff’s Program Evaluation appears on the www.strugglingteens.com website as does a copy of his Curriculum Vitae.] Alldredge has been unfairly misrepresented by the dissemination of inaccurate and inflammatory information concerning the death of an Alldredge student in February 2001. Dr. Bandoroff’s report helps correct this misinformation. His report, in conjunction with the preceding historical review, clearly indicates that students were never in imminent danger. Rather, the entire ordeal was about legal issues, miscommunication, jurisdiction, regulatory authority, and the absence of relevant guidelines and legislation.

The good news is that DHHR and Alldredge have ironed out temporary rules for the school’s operation. Unfortunately, gossip, misinformation, and surmise have overtaken responsible factual disclosures, and caused many to become unnecessarily aroused, inflamed, and concerned.

Thankfully, things have finally calmed down. The needs of adolescents and their families have been attended to without disruption, and all parties have moved forward with magnanimity and purpose. We thank you for your support and encouragement through this stressful time. While we hope that this process has a silver lining, as it has informed many of the benefits of these types of programs, we are glad it is behind us so that we may focus on what is important, the needs of the children and families.

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