Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Glen Mills laying off 250 after students are removed because of abuse probe

Enrollment has dwindled at the nation's oldest reform school in the aftermath of an Inquirer investigation.

Faculty members at Glen Mills Schools depart Tuesday, April 2, 2019, after learning many had been targeted for layoff.  (ED HILLE / For The Inquirer)
Faculty members at Glen Mills Schools depart Tuesday, April 2, 2019, after learning many had been targeted for layoff. (ED HILLE / For The Inquirer)Read moreEd Hille

The Glen Mills Schools is laying off 250 counselors and staffers this week, with just four students left at the Delaware County campus amid multiple state probes into child abuse and cover-ups.

Eighty staff members across various departments were notified Tuesday, said Aimee Tysarczyk, a spokesperson for the school. An additional 170 will be terminated throughout the week.

“Glen Mills Schools thanks our employees, many of whom have tirelessly served the school for decades, for their commitment to the school’s mission and helping to pave the way to a new path in life for countless young men,” school leaders said in a statement.

The state Department of Human Services (DHS) issued an emergency removal order last week for all boys remaining at Glen Mills, saying its investigation into the nation’s oldest reform school has discovered rampant abuse and attempts by staff to coerce boys into silence.

In February, the Inquirer published an investigation documenting decades of abuse and cover-ups at the Glen Mills Schools. In addition to DHS, the Pennsylvania auditor general and the state inspector general — which has subpoena power — have both launched investigations.

The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office is also probing abuse at Glen Mills, which employed 668 people and spent $32.1 million on salaries, benefits, and other compensation in 2016, according to its most recent tax filing.

“After 20 years of working the same job, and many years of great friends and employees our jobs at Glen Mills school is no more. Everybody is laid off,” Michael Merritt, an instructor, posted Tuesday afternoon on Facebook. “Needless to say looking for a new job soon.”

A spokesperson for DHS, which licenses Glen Mills and other residential programs for court-ordered boys, said that two of the four remaining boys are scheduled to leave Wednesday. The agency is working to have the other two relocated “as soon as possible."

Randy Ireson, the school’s executive director, was still employed by Glen Mills, Tysarczyk said. State officials, in ordering the removal of boys last week, said Ireson “failed to ensure the safety and protection of youth placed at the facility."

Ireson took a leave of absence after the Inquirer investigation published, citing health reasons, but still receives compensation and lives in school-affiliated housing. In fiscal 2017, Ireson received $336,000 in total compensation from the school, which had annual revenues of around $40 million.

Meanwhile, an unknown number of Glen Mills employees stand to lose their homes along with their jobs. Some supervisors and longtime staffers have lived in mortgage-free houses near the school. Tysarczyk said Glen Mills leaders were “mindful” of this and “will take any step that we have control over to assist our employees through this process and provide the time and support necessary to help with a proper transition.”

Glen Mills — founded in 1826 as the Philadelphia House of Refuge — housed nearly 400 boys last summer. But judges across the country pulled their boys from the reform school in response to the Inquirer investigation, leaving enrollment of 64 last week when DHS issued the emergency removal order.

In a letter to the school’s board of managers, DHS said conditions at Glen Mills “constitute gross incompetence, negligence, misconduct in operating a facility, including mistreatment and abuse of clients, likely to constitute immediate and serious danger to the life or health of the children in care.”

“As the investigation into allegations raised in recent reporting continues, we must do what is necessary to ensure that no more children are at risk of physical and emotional harm," said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. The agency is currently weighing action against Glen Mills’ license.

In addition to its dissipating student body, Glen Mills learned of another threat to its finances last week: a class-action lawsuit.

The complaint was filed Thursday by local civil rights attorney David Rudovsky, in partnership with Berger Montague, a national class-action law firm based in Philadelphia, and seeks unspecified compensation and damages for boys who were abused as students at Glen Mills.

“Under its veneer of civility, there is a Dickensian ‘culture of violence’ and intimidation at the school that has severely impacted plaintiffs and other children through systematic excessive force, threats of longer sentences for those who report the abuse, and detention beyond commitment dates for those students with injuries that would be noticed upon release from the school,” the complaint reads.

It describes the experiences of two teenagers who say they were routinely beaten by Glen Mills staffers. One suffered a broken nose; the other suffered broken ribs.

Glen Mills formed a review panel of students, staff, and child-protection experts to investigate allegations of abuse raised by the Inquirer. But without pointing to any specific part of the newspaper’s investigation, Glen Mills leadership has said it “disputes virtually all the allegations and conclusions."

After DHS’s own probe corroborated the Inquirer’s reporting, resulting in the emergency removal order, Tysarczyk said Glen Mills was “assessing the situation and its impacts and will continue to work with all state and local officials.”