Bend, OR 97701
Chip Huge, PhD
Controversy abounds at Obsidian Schools.
There has been a lot of misinformation floating in the media the
past few weeks regarding Obsidian Schools, its students and families and Services for Child and Family. Here are the simple facts
of the matter:
Two girls in the program developed frostbite. In both cases as soon as we discovered the frostbite we took immediate steps to treat
the problem. Both girls were promptly brought in for medical treatment as well. After discovering the first frostbite case we increased
the number of daily foot checks, and increased the number of times students had to exchange wet socks for dry. After finding the second
case we went to three-foot checks and sock exchanges a day.
The other two outdoor schools operating in Oregon also had frostbite cases this winter. Services for Child and Family didnít go after
them, however. This is the first winter we have had any frostbite. We were not allowed to address this issue in the hearing at all.
Both girls are healing well.
One girl in the program had to have an emergency appendectomy. A few days after entering in the school and going out to the field,
she reported symptoms consistent with an STD. Our program director, who was also our in-field health professional (Wilderness First
Responder, Wilderness Emergency Medical Tech, Army Medic, and Nurses training) assessed her on his weekly health check and scheduled
her for a medical evaluation in town. At the evaluation she reported conflicting and changing symptoms. She was also found to be pregnant.
It was initially believed she may have had an ectopic pregnancy and she was sent to the hospital for an evaluation. It took several
hours of tests and exploratory surgery to discover that she had an abscessed ruptured appendix. Nothing our school did caused this
girl to rupture her appendix, or get pregnant. The symptoms she presented were consistent with an STD, not appendicitis. And, once
she was at the hospital, it took the medical staff, using all of their sophisticated equipment and exploratory surgery to discover
the actual nature of her ailment.
SCF investigators refused to interview the medical staff at the clinic, where some of the students were treated. They also refused
to interview our Program Director/ Health Monitor, or look at his detailed records of the girls in question.
SCF also claimed that the winter conditions in our field made it unsafe to remain in the mountains. We were camped at about 1,000
to 2,000 foot elevation. The SCF attorney said the snow was so deep that SCF investigators had to use snowshoes. I was there the day
they came out and the snow was about six to ten inches deep. No one was wearing snowshoes. SCF investigators said in their affidavit
that the winter conditions were too severe for the children in the program, but provided no testimony from backpacking experts, outdoors
people, or medical personnel to back it up. The high temperature that day was about thirty-five degrees, and the low the previous
night was near twenty-five. And while it had snowed and rained the previous day, on the day of the hearing the skies were bright and
The students were currently camped on three sites with wall tents with wood stoves. Each site also had a traditional high-roofed tarp-shelter
with a fire pit in the center. Firewood had been trucked to each campsite. The students were equipped for the winter: sleeping bags
rated for minus ten-degrees, snow boots, several pairs of wool-blend winter socks, underwear, long underwear, wool pants, undershirts,
shirts, over shirts, wool sweaters, gloves, ski caps, winter coats and rain gear. They were camped at levels low enough to safely
access at any time, regardless of the weather.
You also need to know that a student died in the Obsidian Trails program, because SCF uses that incident against us every time it
gets a chance. About a year and a half ago, a fifteen-year-old student went into a rage and attacked a male and female field instructor,
and had to be restrained. In the process, this 180-pound boy stopped breathing. Our staff kept him alive with CPR until the Air life
helicopter arrived and took him to the hospital, where he subsequently died. The Medical examiner could not find a firm cause of death.
He suspected that a lacerated vertebral artery was involved, but could not find such a laceration. This boy had been run over by his
fatherís truck when he was one - and-a-half years old, and had had numerous physical, neurological, and emotional problems ever since.
I believe his actual cause of death is related to that tragic event. A grand jury subsequently investigated the boyís death. No indictments
or charges were ever filed in this case. And our review of the facts of the case lead us to believe that our staff did everything
right. It was an awful event for everyone involved. But, SCF is using this event against us, as though our actions had caused this
In a nutshell, we have been given back our permit to be in the forest by the Oregon Department of Forestry, kept the children safe
and kept the parents informed. Our parents have been the backbone of our ability to persevere. They have supported us in every way
imaginable; so have our new parents. During this whole ordeal, parents have been enrolling their children, confident in our program
and outcomes. We continue to meet all requirements for our licensing for March 1. We have a Registered Nurse seeing students in the
field twice a week (itís nice that she is the mother of one of our graduates).
This is an overview. I hope it gives you a capsule of insight that is digestible. Letís focus on the facts. Hopefully, what will be
resolved will be a greater program for all of our families. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.