558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
Mount Bachelor Academy, DHS reach settlement
Oregon Department of Human Services agreed to dismiss or modify abuse findings, school will stay closed
October 07, 2010
Nearly a year after the Oregon Department of Human Services ordered Mount Bachelor Academy to discontinue therapeutic services, the two parties have reached a settlement.
Although a settlement has been reached, the possibility of the therapeutic boarding school for teens re-opening is still in question.
“We are pleased that the ongoing legal dispute between Mount Bachelor Academy (MBA) and the State of Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) has finally been satisfactorily resolved,” Aspen Education Group President Phil Herschman said in a written statement on behalf of MBA. Aspen owned MBA and still owns other therapeutic boarding schools in several states throughout the country.
Last November, DHS completed a seven-month investigation into numerous allegations of child abuse by the MBA staff, finding several substantiated incidents of abuse. As a result, DHS ordered MBA to suspend therapeutic services and residential services, giving them 90 days to correct the violations. The violations were not corrected and the school remains closed.
According to the settlement recitals, one month after the order, MBA requested a hearing to contest the complaint and corrective order and suspension order. The recitals went on to state that in March 2010, MBA reached an agreement with DHS regarding the orders.
The recitals also recounted four legal proceedings initiated by MBA and its executive director Sharon Bitz between December 2009 and July 2010.
First, Bitz sued DHS in December 2009 to contest allegations against her. Then in April 2010, MBA and Bitz separately submitted notices of claim for damages to the Oregon Department of Administrative Services. Finally, in July 2010, MBA filed a lawsuit to contest the DHS abuse allegations.
According to the agreement, DHS will modify the findings of its investigation while MBA and Bitz will withdraw any legal action they have pursued.
“The findings as regards MBA will be modified to replace the ‘substantiated’ with the following two sentences: ‘Based on the evidence available to the Department (DHS), the Department found that there is reasonable cause to believe that abuse or neglect occurred. The Department’s conclusion is based on evidence collected solely by the Department as of Nov. 2, 2009 and not on information provided or available after that date.’”
These modifications are reflected in a statement released by Erinn Kelley-Siel, DHS director of children, adults and families.
“MBA acknowledged that based on the evidence available to DHS on Nov. 2, 2009, the agency had reasonable cause to believe that abuse or neglect occurred at the school as uncovered by the investigation,” the statement said. “In addition, MBA agrees that DHS had a reasonable basis to investigate the allegations of abuse and neglect and to seek corrective actions.”
Herschman, on the other hand, suggested in his statement that the agreement shows the DHS lacked the grounds to shut MBA down.
“The DHS’ withdrawal of its order suspending MBA’s license supports out position that they did not have justification for that order in the first place,” his statement reads. “The DHS has acknowledged with this settlement that in fact there was additional evidence no abuse had occurred.”
In addition modifying the finding against MBA, DHS will withdraw the substantiated findings against Bitz on the condition that she enrolls in and successfully completes a two-year course in child/adolescent psychology. The course must be pre-approved by DHS. If she fails to complete the course, DHS will enter the findings into their computer system.
The agreement further requires the dismissal of any legal action or claims pursued by MBA or Bitz with the understanding that no new actions will be filed.
As far as the future of MBA is concerned Kelley-Siel’s DHS statement said that school is closed and, “by all accounts, will remain closed.”
Herschman does not dispute that MBA is closed, but he expressed the intent to install a new school on the property at some point.
“Despite the tragic circumstances of Mount Bachelor (Academy’s) closure, we hope to open a new, even more successful school on the MBA campus in the future,” his statement said.