An embattled Philadelphia-area reform school appealed on Tuesday the state's decision to revoke its 14 licenses amid allegations of child abuse at the nation's oldest institution of its kind.
Glen Mills Schools refuted claims published in an investigation by The Philadelphia Inquirer that detailed decades of alleged abuse and cover-ups at the 193-year-old facility.
"For the past 40 years, Glen Mills has been one of the most often visited, regulated, inspected, and scrutinized programs of its kind," the appeal read. "It has also been among the most imitated and praised schools of its kind."
But Inquirer investigation published in February described a culture of physical abuse and alleged that school leaders turned a blind eye to beatings and failed to vet or train counselors.
The allegations included severe beatings for students who made minor infractions, a staffer breaking a boy's jaw after the student made a joke about his sister, and other boys getting choked for running away. Broken bones, serious bruises and threats warning students not to talk were detailed.
In the past five years, at least 13 staffers at Glen Mills have been fired and dozens more have been retrained or reprimanded over assaults on 15 students at the school, the newspaper reported.
Barely two months after the story was published, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services announced that all 14 licenses issued to Glen Mills were revoked "following documented instances of abuse against former students of the residential school." The department also cited "gross incompetence, negligence and misconduct in operating the facility."
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Some 250 people lost their jobs as a result, according to a spokesperson for Glen Mills. The school also faced two class action lawsuits alleging abuse and mismanagement. One seeks up to $10 million is damages.
"In the past 18 months alone, Glen Mills Schools has been formally visited, inspected and reviewed more than 150 times by different outside entities, including numerous states and counties," Glen Mills spokeswoman Aimee Tysarczyk said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.
"The issues PA DHS inspectors discovered were trivial and they found no signs of long-standing physical abuse, per their own documentation. We are stunned that PA DHS is taking this action based on media reports as opposed to looking at the results of their own inspections."
Glen Mills, established in 1826 as the Philadelphia House of Refuge, previously said it had "zero-tolerance for violent behaviors against students." The school noted that it is regulated and licensed each year, and that staff deal with extremely challenging young people and are trained in handling potentially violent behaviors.
Set amid the rolling hills of Delaware County, it looked more like a prestigious prep school than a facility for juvenile delinquents. Boys wind up in the facility in two ways: because they are in the criminal justice system in some capacity or are dependents like foster kids the state hasn't been able to place.
Students have come from Pennsylvania and many other states. Some came from as far as Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Bermuda. Its top-tier athletic program has yielded NFL recruits.
After the Inquirer investigation was published in February, agencies in Los Angeles, Houston, Pittsburgh and other jurisdictions pulled their students from the school.