Saturday, March 25, 2017

These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like A Prison’ | PopularResistance.Org

These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like A Prison’ | PopularResistance.Org:

These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like A Prison’


From propublica.org


Camelot Education takes the students that public schools have given up on. But some current and former students say its discipline goes too far.
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This story was co-published with Slate.
Teenagers at Paramount Academy sometimes came home with mysterious injuries.
An alternative school for sixth- through 12th-graders with behavioral or academic problems, Paramount occupied a low-slung, brick and concrete building on a dead-end road in hard-luck Reading, Pennsylvania, a city whose streets are littered with signs advertising bail bondsmen, pay-day lenders, and pawn shops. Camelot Education, the for-profit company that ran Paramount under a contract with the Reading school district, maintained a set of strict protocols: No jewelry, book bags, or using the water fountain or bathroom without permission. Just as it still does at dozens of schools, the company deployed a small platoon of “behavioral specialists” and “team leaders”: typically large men whose job was partly to enforce the rules.
Over six months in 2013 and 2014, about a half-dozen parents, students and community members at Paramount Academy — billed as a “therapeutic” day program — complained of abusive behavior by the school’s staff. One mother heard that staff restrained students by “excessive force” and bruised the arms of a female student, according to email exchanges between Camelot and the district. Another mother, Sharon Pacharis, said she visited the school to complain about manhandling and was told, “That’s just what we do.” Camelot’s own written reports to the district documented one incident in which a teenager was scratched and another in which a bathroom wall was damaged. Both resulted from “holds” — likely a reference to Camelot’s protocol for restraining students during a physical encounter.
Camelot tended to blame the students in its weekly reports to the district, calling them “out of control”; school officials referred several to police. It was, after all, a place partly for students whom the district had deemed too disruptive for a traditional school setting.
But an incident on April 24, 2014, abruptly shifted the focus to Camelot’s staff.
Ismael Seals, a behavioral specialist, walked into a classroom with several loud and boisterous students and commanded them to “shut the fuck up,” decreeing that the next one who talked would get body-slammed through the door, according to a subsequent criminal complaint. Moments later, Seals fulfilled his promise. After 17-year-old Corey Mack asked and received permission from his teacher, Teresa Bivens, to get up to sharpen his pencil, Seals pushed him repeatedly against a door and then shoved him into the hall, where a school surveillance camera recorded most of the rest of the incident. Seals, 6 feet 4 inches tall and 280 pounds, lifted Mack, 5 feet 8 inches tall and about 160 pounds, by his shirt and swung him into the wall headfirst, later pinning him to the ground as other staff members arrived, according to court documents.
Mack later showed a string of bruises and scratches on his back to a program director at a center for children with behavioral and mental health challenges. The program director called a juvenile probation official, who contacted the police.
Reached by telephone last fall, Corey Mack struggled to remember the details of his altercation with Seals, including what he had said just before the behavioral specialist shoved him, and the precise sequence of events. But he was clear on the essential point: “He beat me up,” Mack said.
The Seals incident is the best-documented example of staff-on-student violence at facilities run by Camelot, a company dogged by allegations of similar abuses. Thirteen Camelot students have alleged in interviews or documents that they were shoved, beaten, or thrown — assaults almost always referred to as “slamming” — by Camelot staff members, usually for the sin of talking back, in separate incidents that span 10 years and three states. (Six of the students were interviewed in 2009 in New Orleans.) Two additional students, and five Camelot staff members, say they have personally witnessed beatings or physical aggression by staff.
The abuse allegedly occurred in Camelot programs in Reading; Lancaster; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and Pensacola, Florida. Jandy Rivera, for instance, a former teacher at Camelot-run Phoenix Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, says that on multiple occasions staff members, including administrators, “baited kids so they could hit kids.” For the most part, staffers who allegedly assaulted students have faced no criminal charges or internal discipline; some have even been promoted.
The Florida Department of Children and Families, which investigates reports of child abuse, is looking into an incident last week at Camelot Academy in Pensacola in which a behavioral specialist, while breaking up a fight between students, allegedly knocked a 13-year-old to the ground, causing a bloody abrasion and bruising near the teenager’s eye. The youth posted a graphic photo of his swollen face on Facebook. “I do not like this way of disciplining kids,’’ said his mother, Pauline Ball. “You can give him a permanent injury.” Camelot said the specialist “had to intervene to protect other students,” and that the injuries were an accident: “The staff member and student tripped over each other’s feet and both These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like A Prison’ | PopularResistance.Org:

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