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More than 80 boys to leave Glen Mills Schools after Inquirer investigation of abuse

The reform school’s license hangs in the balance as state and local agencies investigate.

A teenager who was attacked by his Glen Mills Schools counselors last summer, shown in his Philadelphia home.
A teenager who was attacked by his Glen Mills Schools counselors last summer, shown in his Philadelphia home.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

More than 80 boys from across the country are being removed from the Glen Mills Schools in response to an Inquirer investigation into decades of abuse and cover-ups at the Delaware County campus.

The county’s district attorney is conducting a probe into possible lawbreaking at Glen Mills, the oldest existing reform school in the United States.

And the state Department of Human Services, which oversees Glen Mills and other homes for court-ordered boys, is investigating the school to determine whether it should keep its license.

“DHS will work to do whatever it must to stop this culture of silence, intimidation, and mistreatment of children,” said Ali Fogarty, a spokesperson for the agency.

The recent Inquirer investigation uncovered decades of abuse by counselors at Glen Mills, where boys said they are threatened to keep quiet about the violence they endure.

Since the story was published, online last week and in print on Sunday, juvenile courts in Michigan, Texas, California, and Pennsylvania have begun the process of pulling their boys from Glen Mills.

The school stands to lose more than one-third of its students. Although a privately run nonprofit, Glen Mills receives taxpayer money, including a tuition of $52,000 per year for each boy from Philadelphia.

Philadelphia acted first, initiating new hearings for its 51 boys who were at Glen Mills.

Los Angeles County intends to remove all 14 of its boys from the school, a spokesperson for the juvenile probation department said Wednesday.

Probation officials are already on campus with the youths, and are coordinating with juvenile judges “to do this in a deliberate and thoughtful manner to avoid unnecessary detention and interruption of their treatment program,” said Adam Wolfson, the spokesperson.

Kent County, Mich., pulled all seven of its teenagers out of Glen Mills and had them back in the Grand Rapids area by Tuesday.

Harris County, Texas, removed its two boys, as first reported by the Houston Chronicle. “As soon as I was made aware of the allegations this morning, I directed our staff to make arrangements to have these two returned here immediately,” Henry Gonzales, the county’s juvenile probation executive director, told the paper.

In Pennsylvania, Erie County officials said Wednesday they are removing their nine youths from Glen Mills. “I have to make sure they’re safe and that their best interests are being met,” said President Judge John Trucilla. Probation officers are headed to Glen Mills to retrieve the youths, he said.

After the story was published, two state lawmakers called on the Pennsylvania auditor general and attorney general, as well as the regional office of the U.S. Department of Justice, to investigate Glen Mills. (The Inquirer previously reported that the Justice Department has an “ongoing law enforcement proceeding” at the school.)

Joe Grace, a spokesperson for Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, said they were "deeply disturbed by the allegations of abuse and cover-up.”

Shapiro’s office could take on the case, but it must first be referred to them by Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland, whose office has jurisdiction. “We stand ready to assist further if necessary,” Grace said.

Chelsey Price, a spokesperson for Copeland, said, “We are currently prosecuting and [investigating], with our law enforcement partners, allegations that emanate from the Glen Mills Schools.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services licenses and oversees Glen Mills and other residential programs for juveniles. The department is reviewing all the accounts of abuse described in the article, and will decide whether to take action against Glen Mills’ license at the end of the process, Fogarty said.

The state’s options include allowing the school to retain its full license or revoking it. DHS could also issue a “provisional" or temporary license for up to six months. Under this action, Glen Mills would commit to correcting any issues identified by the state, which would increase its supervision of the school during that period.

Fogarty could not give a timeline for the state’s review.

A spokesperson for Glen Mills did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Without citing any specifics, Glen Mills leadership previously issued a statement saying it “disputes virtually all the allegations and conclusions" in the article.

In the meantime, enrollment is dwindling at the prestigious reform school that housed more than 1,000 boys at its peak.

In August, when the Inquirer reported that a Philadelphia teen had been assaulted by Glen Mills counselors, the school said it had 383 students from throughout the country. Philadelphia, Chester County and Delaware County suspended intake at Glen Mills last summer. Montgomery County removed its boys from Glen Mills in October 2017.

By Feb. 19, the school’s enrollment had fallen to 238. The number of students that various jurisdictions have decided to remove following the Inquirer report has reached 83, dropping Glen Mills’ student body to fewer than 160.

Columbia County, Pa., also removed its sole student enrolled at Glen Mills on Wednesday morning; but the hearing was already scheduled and the boy was discharged because he had completed his time, said Denise LaBuda, chief juvenile probation officer.

LaBuda said that Columbia County youths had had positive experiences at Glen Mills. Still, the county would probably wait until “all issues are resolved openly and fully” before referring more boys to the school.

While officials from other counties weigh their next steps, Glen Mills is looking for support where it can find it.

In an email to alumni Tuesday afternoon, administrator Al Minker asked former students to push positive messages about Glen Mills on social media.

“I am asking that ALL BULLS FOR LIFE CLUB MEMBERS come together and show support in fighting back on the recent articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer,” wrote Minker, who is identified on Glen Mills’ website as an education coordinator.

The school’s mascot is the “Battling Bulls." The subject line of Minker’s email read, “BULLS FOR LIFE!!!”

That night, an alumnus named Michael Bettencourt responded — not to the call to arms, but to the email itself. “It’s over,” the former student wrote. “We had a great run.”

"Everything in all of those reports are true. Many many more stories are going to come out that are worse.”