This is a  staff list for The Discovery School in Dillwyn, VA

(we are working to acquire the complete records for ALL years)

 

We advise current and/or former staff to report any abuses you may have witnessed while working at The Discovery School.  For information on your rights and how to take action, visit www.heal-online.org/blowthewhistle.htm.  If you were fired or forced to resign because you opposed any illegal and/or unethical practices at The Discovery School, you have the right to take action. 

 

If you were harmed (family or survivor) by The Discovery School, please contact info@heal-online.org if you remember the long-term employees and from which years.  This will help!   Also, if you recognize any of these staff as having worked at another program, please send in any information about their past or present employment at other facilities and/or cults.

 

HEAL is currently investigating The Discovery School.

 

Name

Unit/Position

Additional Information
Chris Yates Owner Yates is not a licensed mental health professional in Virginia.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
Don Williams Owner/Admissions Williams is not a licensed mental health professional in Virginia.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
Allan Jacobson Owner Jacobson is not a licensed mental health professional in Virginia.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
Mike Forman Admissions Forman is not a licensed mental health professional in Virginia.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
John Outland Staff Outland is not a licensed mental health professional in Virginia.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
Steve Welsh Staff Steven J. Welsh (may be a different person) is a licensed professional counselor in Charlottesville, VA and has been since 2011.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
Steve Dufort Staff Dufort is not a licensed mental health professional in Virginia.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
Nikki Thorpe Staff Thorpe is not a licensed mental health professional in Virginia.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
Brandon Nuckols Staff Nuckols is not a licensed mental health professional in Virginia.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
Mark Mellusi Staff Mellusi is not a licensed mental health professional in Virginia.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
Dr. Miriam Halpern Medication Management Miriam E. Halpern (may be a different person) is a licensed medical doctor/surgeon in Virginia and has been since 2006.  Source: https://secure01.virginiainteractive.org/dhp/cgi-bin/search_publicdb.cgi
     
     
     
     
     
*(The Discovery School, like many other programs in this industry, keeps a "tight lid" on any specific information regarding their staff, qualifications, and practices.  Please contact us with the names of any staff of which you have firsthand knowledge or experience.  Thank you for your help.)
HEAL received a detailed report from the Virginia Department of Education detailing the findings of the Virginia Department of Social Services inspections of The Discovery School.  Every inspection from June 17th, 2008 through September 23rd, 2011 showed that The Discovery School was in violation of Virginia licensing standards.  On March 16th, 2011, a special inspection was conducted as the result of a complaint filed against The Discovery School with the Virginia Department of Social Services. 
HEAL's Review of The Discovery School Boys Program Information and Parent Handbook

HEAL has found multiple problems with The Discovery School's program information and parent handbook including apparent unconscionable terms and/or contradictory terms leaving us to believe that The Discovery School is running a money-making scam on families in need of assistance.  We will be alternating between "quoted text" from pages of  The Discovery School documents on file (which include the boys program information and parent handbook documents) (as was received from a former client in 2011) and HEAL's questions/concerns.  HEAL will not repeatedly link to the program documents in full throughout this review, and, we advise readers to scroll back and/or open the program documents in a new window while reviewing our work for accuracy or if additional contextualization is preferred.  This is an independent review and if you are in need of legal assistance or advice, please consult with an attorney

Page 1 of Program Documents PDF (Page numbers appearing on documents may differ from page number of PDF.  We are using the PDF page number.)

Quotes from Program Documents:

"STUDENT SERVICES"

"The Discovery School of Virginia is an outdoor residential school for boys.  The School serves students who are experiencing emotional, behavioral, and learning problems."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Our primary concern with the above description of the program is that "students" with different issues requiring different treatment models are treated the same.  A child with a learning disability is treated with the same punitive techniques as those with severe behavioral problems, neither of which stand to benefit from the methods imposed by the program.  Children with learning disabilities require special education services that tailor education to the child's learning style.  Treating everyone the same and blaming the child for a learning disability is not appropriate and only one example of many where this program is acting out of line with science and common sense.


Quote from Program Documents:

"...[S]tudent...learns to take responsibility for himself and his education."

HEAL: Children with learning disabilities are not irresponsible and need help working within the limits of those disabilities.  This program blames the child for "failure in the traditional or other non-traditional academic settings" and not the lack of proper services provided.  Learn more about meeting the needs of children with learning disabilities at http://www.medicinenet.com/learning_disability/article.htm and understand there is no cure for learning disabilities.

The program claims to take children with all sorts of presenting problems from family issues (death in family/divorce) to criminal behavior.  And, like most behavior modification programs, which this is, it does not meet the needs of the children in the program.  Even many prisons don't house violent offenders with non-violent offenders and there are different facilities depending on the type of crime from minimum to maximum.  When it comes to youth programs like The Discovery School, they house everyone together and keep complaints in-house  (discussed further on in detail).

Quote from Program Documents:

"The outdoor environment is a constant teacher for the students and staff, offering challenges and the opportunities to experience tangible success."


HEAL Questions and Concerns:


What does Discovery mean by "challenges"?  What does Discovery mean by "opportunities"?  What does Discovery mean by "tangible success"?  As we continue this review, readers will notice that challenges include sleep deprivation and uncompensated labor (maintenance of program, leadership/junior staff roles, cooking, building, and working for staff at their homes and off-campus).  Tangible success appears to be defined as receiving the cloth patch known as "The Crest" which is discussed later in this review. 

Quote from Program Documents:

"RESIDENTIAL STRUCTURE"

"Students are assigned to a group of 10 boys and two adult group leaders.  Each group lives on a campsite that is within walking distance of the central administrative area.  A campsite consists of 8 to 10 semi-permanent cabin size tents that the group designs, builds, maintains, and replaces as needed...The daily routine, including meals, campsite maintenance, and personal hygiene, is established from wake up at 6:30am to lights out at 10:00pm."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Where do new students sleep on their first day and night?  Are they required to design, build, and replace their living quarters prior to any rest?  Why do you claim lights out is at 10pm when on the longer schedule provided by you in the parent handbook it says the final group session (which ends with yelling) can end as late as 11pm?  Yelling is harmful to kids and it is inappropriate before bedtime, let alone any other time of day.  See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parenting/study-says-yelling-as-harmful-as-spanking-in-disciplining-kids-so-what-should-parents-do/2013/10/01/dcb01b74-1bf1-11e3-8685-5021e0c41964_story.html   Yelling at someone before bed can worsen anxiety and actually trigger night terrors.  But, they have group sessions where kids confront each other and tear each other down before bed every night at Discovery.  This is not proper treatment, period.  Learn more about how yelling and other stimulating activity can cause serious night terrors and other problems here: http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/night-terrors.html

In addition, children suffer from not enough rest.  Teens require a minimum of 9 1/4 hours of a sleep per night for optimum health and that's when they are not being forced to do hard labor all day and are living relatively normal teen lifestyles.  (Source: http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/sleep-in-adolescents).  This program admits that the maximum sleep kids may get is between 8-8.5 hours of sleep if they go to sleep immediately after a yelling event following group at 10pm.  As stated previously, the admit in the longer version of their daily schedule that kids may be going to bed at 11pm.  That allows for 7.5 hours if the fall asleep immediately after lights out/group has ended.  Such is highly unlikely to occur given the stimulation just before bed.  Experts suggest everyone get about 30 minutes of quiet time to wind down before bed.  (Source: http://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/content/what-do-when-you-cant-sleep).  Now if you assume the kids will need at least 30 minutes of wind down time after lights out because of the over-stimulation of group before bed, then you can look at 11:30pm being the bedtime and the amount of sleep a kid gets at this program may be a minimum of 7 hours of sleep or less per night. 

"Adolescents are notorious for not getting enough sleep. The average amount of sleep that teenagers get is between 7 and 7 ¼ hours. However, they need between 9 and 9 ½ hours (studies show that most teenagers need exactly 9 ¼ hours of sleep). Teenagers do not get enough sleep for a number of reasons: Shift in sleep schedule. After puberty, there is a biological shift in an adolescent’s internal clock of about 2 hours, meaning that a teenager who used to fall asleep at 9:00 PM will now not be able to fall asleep until 11:00PM. It also means waking 2 hours later in the morning. Early high school start times. In most school districts, the move to high school is accompanied by an earlier school start time. Some high schools start as early as 7:00 AM, meaning that some teenagers have to get up as early as 5:00 AM to get ready for and travel to school. Social and school obligations. Homework, sports, after-school activities (often occurring during the evening), and socializing lead to late bedtimes. As a result, most adolescents are very sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation will impact on many aspects of your teenager’s functioning: Mood. Sleep deprivation will cause your teenager to be moody, irritable, and cranky. In addition, she will have a difficult time regulating her mood, such as by getting frustrated or upset more easily. Behavior. Teenagers who are sleep deprived are also more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, such as drinking, driving fast, and engaging in other dangerous activities. Cognitive ability. Inadequate sleep will result in problems with attention, memory, decision making, reaction time, and creativity, all of which are important in school. Academic performance. Studies show that teenagers who get less sleep are more apt to get poor grades in school, fall asleep in school, and have school tardiness/absences. Drowsy driving. Teenagers are at the highest risk for falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving is the most likely to occur in the middle of the night (2:00 to 4:00 AM), but also in mid-afternoon (3:00 to 4:00 PM)."  Source:  http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/sleep-in-adolescents

So, if teenagers are not getting the mandated amount of sleep to improve mood, behavior, and school function, then how can Discovery claim to be meeting the needs of its students?  According to the Nationwide Children's Hospital, getting only 7 hours of sleep per night results in the very issues Discovery claims it is addressing with its specialized program.  But, even their sleep policy and program schedule contradict their claimed intent and purpose.


Quote from Program Documents:

"ACADEMIC STRUCTURE"

"Students earn the privilege of attending formal academic classes by recognizing, understanding, and demonstrating a willingness to deal with their emotional//behavioral problems in a mature and responsible manner."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Education is a fundamental human right, not a privilege.  (Sources: http://campaignforeducationusa.org/blog/detail/the-right-to-education-should-not-be-denied, http://www.unicefusa.org/mission/protect/education/stand-malala, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/right2education, and https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice_prisoners-rights_drug-law-reform_immigrants-rights/homeless-children-denied-equal-acc)  Education is a fundamental human right and should not be used as a "reward" for "good behavior", especially when the "bad behavior" is an incurable learning disability, depression, or low self-esteem.  The fact that remedial coursework is a "reward" in the 6 Stage (6-Level Behavior Modification System) program at Discovery is absurd and further brings into question their qualifications and practices.

The Discovery School of Virginia, Inc. is licensed by the Virginia Department of Education.  We have contacted the Virginia Department of Education to ask what criteria and oversight is provided in regards to licensed non-public schools in VA.  VAISEF is granted authority through their partnership with VCPE to "accredit" their members.  (Source: http://www.vaisef.org/membership-accreditation/about-accreditation/)  A program must be a member for 1 year before applying for accreditation.  Accreditation includes multiple fees (membership, annual, annual dues, and more) that add up to about $1120 at a minimum.  In addition, VAISEF gets a percentage of the program's annual budget.  (Source: http://www.vaisef.org/membership-accreditation/membershipaccreditation/).  Given the nature of the financial relationship between VAISEF and its members, it would seem not the best agency to be relied on for oversight.  But, that is exactly what the Department of Education is doing in regards to private schools operating in VA.  HEAL will continue investigating.

Page 2 of Program Documents PDF

Quote from Program Documents:

"Other problems for students include: low self esteem, negative self image or a diminished sense of self worth; lack of self control or discipline; resistance to parental control; antagonism toward siblings; withdrawal or apathy in conventional social situations; a tendency to project blame and evade personal responsibility; chronic emotional stress; inability to make appropriate personal and social decisions; self-centeredness and manipulation; ongoing difficulty with authority figures and rules; alcohol and/or drug abuse; and running away.  Many students have associated with a negative peer group or are aspiring to live unrealistic, irrational and contrary lifestyles."


HEAL Questions and Concerns:

What is the proper treatment for low self esteem?  Is it punishment and enslavement where you earn the right to read and write by doing as you are told?  Aversive Therapies are not widely accepted because of their potential for abuse.  In addition, aversive behavior modification (which Discovery engages in) is advised against for almost all issues the program claims to address.  (Source: http://www.sevencounties.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=9744&cn=353).  What does Discovery mean by "aspiring to live unrealistic, irrational and contrary lifestyles"?  If they are referring to homosexuality or even a desire to become a musician or artist, then they are limiting the child's potential and not supporting the child's natural development.  Such is contrary to all mainstream and widely respected expert advice.  One would hate to see a "Dead Poet's Society" situation in which a teen is deprived the right of self expression and self determination and commits suicide as a result.  Such is a common affect of the treatment model used by The Discovery School, which is not a licensed mental health facility nor treatment center.  It is licensed solely as a private school, nothing more.  So, no proper oversight is given for their "treatment" model.  This is another huge red flag.

Page 3 of Program Documents PDF

Quote from Program Documents:

"ACADEMIC PROGRAM DESCRIPTION"

"Enrolled students pursue academic coursework which may 1) facilitate eventual transitions back to traditional public and private schools, 2) prepare the individual to earn a high school diploma through the Discovery School of Virginia or in special cases, 3) prepare the individual to take the GED exams."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Have credits earned at Discovery ever been denied by legitimate schools or colleges?  How many children who complete the Discovery Program earn a recognized high school diploma?  How many children who complete the Discovery Program receive a GED? 

Quote from Program Documents:

"The essential goal of the academic program is to teach each student to take responsibility for his education and to respect it as a privilege.  The process of earning school hours encourages a sense of motivation that is further fostered by positive pressure from peers and staff in the student's group."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

The primary objective of any academic program should be to provide a proper education.  Any academic program or process should be reviewed to ensure the best quality of service is provided to each student based on their individual educational needs.  (Source: http://oeas.ucf.edu/doc/acad_assess_handbook.pdf).  HEAL received an e-mail from the Department of Education in VA stating that The Discovery School is specifically licensed to provide services to those with learning disabilities.  It is not a licensed behavioral health nor mental health facility and should not be engaging in behavior modification as its primary function based on its current licensing as well as what is in the best interest of enrolled students.

HEAL is extremely concerned that this program uses "Positive Peer Pressure" and confrontational group therapy.  Both of these have been denounced and found extremely harmful by proper scientific studies and journals. 

"The use of confrontational strategies in individual, group and family substance abuse counseling emerged through a confluence of cultural factors in U.S. history, pre-dating the development of methods for reliably evaluating the effects of such treatment. Originally practiced within voluntary peer-based communities, confrontational approaches soon extended to authority-based professional relationships where the potential for abuse and harm greatly increased. Four decades of research have failed to yield a single clinical trial showing efficacy of confrontational counseling, whereas a number have documented harmful effects, particularly for more vulnerable populations."  Source:  http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr/2007ConfrontationinAddictionTreatment.pdf

Quote from Program Documents:

"After he has been in the program for 4 weeks he requests from his group the privilege to attend formal school.  The student begins with one daily class and is eligible every four weeks to request an additional daily class until he earns 5 classes per day.  A sixth daily class is available to students who have been in the program for over ten months and who have demonstrated significant progress in motivation.  The classroom teachers meet weekly to discuss and determine which eligible students have shown the necessary progress to earn requested school hours."


HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Federal law requires that minors have at least 5 months of full-time education per year.  This program's practices in regard to education violate federal laws regarding school attendance and enrollment.  Source: http://www.irs.gov/publications/p17/ch03.html  This could affect a parent's ability to claim certain deductions on tax forms and result in other penalties.  The Department of Education in VA requires that each student have at least 5.5 hours of academic instruction per day.  This program openly admits in its documents to violate this licensing policy.  HEAL has reported this to the proper authorities.

Page 4 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:
 
"RECOVERY DYNAMICS"

"Addiction to drugs or alcohol is considered a mental, physical, and spiritual illness."

"Recovery Dynamics is a systematic program that instructs students how to apply the twelve steps of recovery found in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous."

"Recovery Dynamics meets two to four times a week for 30 to 45 minutes per session...  In the course of their work students may attend off-campus Open Speaker Meetings or an AA workshop."

"Since the root of addiction is based in selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear, it is just as important that students learn to form healthy relationships in the group by sharing themselves and giving to others as it is for them to learn how to believe in a higher power."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

The Discovery School is not a licensed drug rehabilitation program and is not qualified to provide drug treatment services.  This program advertises as a secular and not a faith-based program.  However, it claims illnesses to be spiritual and that they teach children to believe in a higher power.  This may raise concerns for parents regarding what higher power is being presented and whether it interferes with the family's religious views and practices.

The science does not support The Discovery School's assertion that one must be dishonest, selfish, and afraid to use alcohol and drugs.  In fact, the real experts say that such abuses can be a form of self-medication and that many environmental factors are involved in whether an individual engages in alcohol and drug use and abuse.  (Sources: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/addiction-science/genes-environment-comorbidity/many-environmental-factors-also-contribute-to-persons-propensity and http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/addiction-science/why-do-people-abuse-drugs/why-would-anyone-abuse-drugs)  Clearly, The Discovery School blames children for their drug abuse and/or addiction instead of addressing environmental factors or traumatic histories that may have lead to self-medication.  Either they don't know what they are doing or they know and don't care that it isn't in the best interest of the children they are serving and is likely to cause lasting harm.

As we go through this review, you will see that children who have been accused of drug abuse or addiction will be punished and not allowed to move up in the program until they "volunteer" for the "Recovery Dynamics" program at Discovery.  Coercion negates volunteerism. 

"Although the number of studies is relatively small, there is nonetheless growing consensus of the importance, separate from the application of any social controls or pressures, of fostering and supporting autonomous motivation for achieving positive outcomes - a concept that is antithetical to coercion in treatment." (Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2906422/

Time after time we are finding that The Discovery School and programs like it are not acting in the best interest of the children and families they serve and are either incompetent frauds or something quite worse.  Regardless, it is best families avoid enrolling their children in such programs.

Page 5 of Program Documents PDF


Quotes from Program Documents:

"TUITION RATES FOR FISCAL YEAR 2012"

"TOTAL COSTS FOR 12 MONTHS                                  $59,130.00"

"FEIN-54-1907814"

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Why are parents paying $60,000 per year/approx. $5,000 per month so their kids can provide free labor for 10 months for the program while "earning the privilege" of a basic education? 

Page 7 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"THE DISCOVERY SCHOOL OF VIRGINIA PARENTS' MANUAL"

Quotes from Program Documents:

"Discovery School  2697 Copper Mine Rd, Dillwyn, VA 23936"

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Dillwyn is a rural prison town.  Source: http://news.virginia.edu/content/second-chances-darden-s-fairchild-launches-prison-entrepreneurship-program  One of Virginia's largest prisons is located in Dillwyn.  Why would you send your child to a rural prison town?

Page 09 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"INTRODUCTION"

"The Discovery School uses the group problem solving process and the natural environment to assist with a young person's positive development.  The peer group is a natural phenomenon and provides a more positive group experience to counter effects of a negative or non-existent group experience.  The natural environment allows for circumstances that stimulate positive actions and provide an immediate cause and effect relationship that cannot be avoided."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

What does Discovery mean by "group problem solving process"?  What does Discovery mean by "natural environment" (i.e. cooperative or competitive, accepting of differences or requiring conformity to unusual norms (meaning blind adherence to program indoctrination and similar practices in opposition to self-determination and personal autonomy))?  What does Discovery mean by "positive development"?  What does Discovery mean by "positive group experience"?  Based on other areas of the program materials discussed above and below, HEAL believes Discovery is using confrontation and coercion, both of which are harmful and ineffective when treating youth.  In addition, aversive therapies are not recommended in most treatment settings and models and are regularly denounced for their potential for abuse.   (Source: http://www.sevencounties.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=9744&cn=353
)

Quotes from Program Documents:

"THE STUDENT AND THE GROUP"

"The introductory meeting ends with a group yell (shouting the group's name in unison) followed by the group members shouting "welcome" to the student."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Do Discovery Group Sessions and Motivating Look Like the Following?:







The above are examples from a chain of programs with multiple spin-offs still in existence.  These methods are abusive and illegal.  They are also pervasive in youth treatment programs.  The reason is that the treatment programs are not about helping the kids, they are about making money and enslaving children.  Have you ever attended a school where maintenance of the school was required of you without compensation?  Think about the message forced labor sends to children about the value of their work and how that message may limit their confidence in real employment situations which may affect long-term success when it comes to advancement and pay increases/raise requests.  If you are told your work has no value and to be grateful for even a "thank you", then you are not learning that labor has intrinsic value as a commodity and that it is your labor that provides a bargaining position when contracting for paid employment.  This undermines long-term successful employment and is a serious concern. 

Quotes from Program Documents:

"GROUP MEETINGS"


"Group meetings are the primary means by which the students resolve differences, gain greater insight into their behavior, receive feedback from peers and staff, and take care of group business.  A student or a staff member can request a group meeting at any time.  When a group meeting is called, the group stops the planned activity, sits down in a circle, and talks through the issue at hand.  There is also a group meeting held at 8:00 p.m. each evening.  This eight o'clock group meeting helps to ensure that the students go to bed with differences resolved and with a sense of group cohesiveness.  All group meetings are concluded with a group yell."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

"At all schools, therapy was performed in large-groups led by “case managers.”  Within the groups, students were responsible for providing each other “feedback” and calling out one another’s faults and issues." (Source:  http://ccasurvivors.com/mitt-romneys-deep-connections-to-the-troubled-teen-industry/)

The above quote is regarding the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools.  For a better understanding of the connections between programs in this industry, click here.

Another program in this industry that was shut down in 2011, Elan School in Maine, was exposed in the following video:

THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT WENT ON AT ELAN ON FILM:

(from approximately 17 minutes into the film to approximately 30 minutes into the film is the Elan segment)





 
HEAL believes the above Elan group session and treatment of Elan students is similar to what is experienced by students at The Discovery School.  

Page 10 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"Religion"

"The Discovery School is not affiliated with any religious organization; however, groups usually attend local churches on Sunday.  A student's choice not to attend church service is respected."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

What alternative is provided for students who choose not to attend church with their group?  What does the program do to make sure students who do not attend church are not stigmatized and ostracized by their group? 

Quotes from Program Documents:


"GROUP LIVING"

"The student is with the group at all times during the first few months at The Discovery School.  Below is a brief description of the student's activities during this period."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

This program does not allow children any personal, alone, or downtime.  The schedule which begins at 6:30am and ends admittedly as late as 11pm is jam-packed with no downtime for the students.  This is not healthy for anyone, whether child or adult.  Everyone needs moments to themselves and downtime throughout the day and 30 minutes before bed as stated above regarding sleep deprivation. 

"Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity."  (Source:  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/

Do you know what types of organizations don't allow for downtime and autonomy?  Cults.  For more information on how to identify a cult-like system, visit: http://www.culteducation.com/group/1153-margaret-thaler-singer-ph-d/5472-the-process-of-brainwashing-psychological-coercion-and-thought-reform.html and http://changingminds.org/techniques/conversion/lifton_thought_reform.htm.

Page 11 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"6:30 a.m.  The group wakes up."

"11:00 [p.m.]..."The group yells good-night to the other groups on campus.  Lights out is 20 minutes after the group yells."

"Two group members are the cooks each week...Cooking responsibilities and morning campsite maintenance chores are rotated weekly among the group members."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

The program is jam-packed with activities that interfere with healthy sleep, cause sleep deprivation, and result in the very behavioral problems the program claims to address.  This is discussed in detail above.  But, we wanted to be sure you understood the entire schedule is available on page 11.  While lights out is 20 minutes after the group yells, it does not provide private time or alone time.  As shown throughout the program documents, they are always with the group and never away from the group.  In addition, that much stimulation that late in the evening is likely to trigger night terrors as explained above and is another serious concern.

It should not be the full-time responsibility of students to provide food service and program maintenance.  We will discuss further how this program puts itself and its needs before those of the children later in this review.

Page 12 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"Night Out"

"Part of each week's plan is a night-out.  Night-outs usually occur on Wednesday or Thursday evening and may involve the group visiting a nearby city.  Activities include shopping and some type of recreational activity, such as skating, going to a movie, bowling, or visiting a staff member's house."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:


How late do night-out activities run?  What activities are involved in "visiting a staff member's house"?  What activities involve visiting a nearby city?  Our concern here is that students may be forced to do housework or yard work for various staff on these outings.  This has been a practice at similar programs.  Another concern is what may occur when visiting nearby cities.  Further on in this review, we will look at the fact that students participate in promoting the program as guests at various facilities and centers as part of the level system/6-Stage system employed by The Discovery School.

Quotes from Program Documents:


"Trips"

"For any trip over four nights, a permission slip is sent to parents giving all information about the trip.  These extended trips are an integral part of the overall program."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

HEAL would recommend parents find out more about these extended trips in advance.  What is the purpose of the trip?  And, what other facilities or adults will have access to the students during the trip?  We have found some labor trafficking and other forms of trafficking with many programs in this industry.  This is something that should be addressed in greater detail by the program prior to enrollment.

Quotes from Program Documents:

"ACADEMIC CLASSES"

"Students are in the group for thirty days before becoming eligible to enroll in the classroom-based academic program.  After the initial thirty days students must seek and gain the recommendation of their group indicating they are ready to start academic classes."

"Receiving additional classes is contingent on the student's behavior in school and in the group and must be approved by school, group, and administrative staff...  The curriculum includes: remedial instruction, grade-level instruction, and GED preparatory classes."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

After thirty days, beginning normal classes isn't guaranteed and it can be months before a child is in a proper academic environment.  This is completely unacceptable.

Our questions are the same as referenced above regarding how many children earn proper high school credits and diplomas and how many or what percentage of total Discovery graduates earn a GED or no degree or diploma at all.

Quotes from Program Documents:

"PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT"

"While a student is working for the Crest and the opportunity to earn regular visits home, it is important that parents remain emotionally supportive (please review Parent/Guardian section in Consent for Admissions form)."  [HEAL does not have a copy of the Consent for Admissions form and cannot speak to what may be included.]

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Many programs in this industry that share the same model as The Discovery School require parents to ignore reports of abuse they may receive from their child and that they do not question the program's policies or procedures nor share any concerns about the program they may have with their children.  Please see our review of the Aspen Institute for Behavioral Assessment contract and parent handbook for an example of what is raising a concern here.  Specifically look at the review of page 15 on this page: http://www.heal-online.org/aspeninst.htm

Page 13 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"Family Worker"

"The family worker is the primary contact person for parents and agency representatives.  When a student enrolls it is suggested that parents establish regular phone contact with the family worker to discuss their child's progress.  Students are not allowed to use the phone."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

It is imperative that parents understand that this program denies children telephone access and there is no way for a child to report abuse or other violations.  HEAL received the following complaint from a parent in July, 2014 whose child had been enrolled in The Discovery School:

"My daughter was there for nearly 8 months. She was injured many times and did not receive proper medical attention. She has PTSD from that hell hole ! We want to sue them and make them close it down!!"  Source: E-mail from former client (July, 2014)

Denying children access to a telephone is a primary warning sign of an abusive facility, especially when they are denied speaking with emergency services and their own parents.  For more warning signs regarding institutional abuse, visit www.heal-online.org/warn.htm.

A minimum standard included in HR 1981, the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act, introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) in 2013 states:

"(E) Each child at such a program shall have reasonable access to a telephone, and be informed of their right to such access, for making and receiving phone calls with as much privacy as possible, and shall have access to the appropriate State or local child abuse reporting hotline number, and the national hotline number referred to in subsection (c)(2). "  Source: https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/1981/text

Clearly, this program is not acting in the best interest of the children and in opposition to recommended minimum standards.

Quotes from Program Documents:

"Visitation"

"On-campus visitation by parents with their child is limited to Family Conferences as described below:"

"Family Conferences"

"The first conference is scheduled sometime after the initial sixty days of enrollment.  This conference is planned when the treatment staff believe that a student is sincerely ready to start resolving family related issues."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Denying unsupervised/unmonitored contact between a child and his/her parents is another serious warning sign of an abusive facility.  For more information, see www.heal-online.org/warn.htm.

"Neither the Inter-American Court nor the Inter-American Commission has defined torture and ill-treatment per se, but they have established that certain practices amount to torture. The Court has, for instance, found that ‘holding a person incommunicado,  isolation in a small cell, without ventilation or natural light,  restriction of visiting rights , constitute forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment’ (Cantoral-Benavides v. Peru , Series C No. 69, Judgement of 18 August 2000). (Source: http://www.humanrights.is/en/human-rights-education-project/comparative-analysis-of-selected-case-law-achpr-iachr-echr-hrc/the-right-to-freedom-from-torture-or-cruel-inhuman-or-degrading-treatment-or-punishment/what-is-torture-and-ill-treatment)

So, based on the above legal understandings regarding holding a child incommunicado and restricting of visiting rights, The Discovery School's practices amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading detreatment.  This is completely unacceptable and something no sane person nor agency should be condoning in regards to the treatment of children according to US and international lawmakers.

Page 14 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"Clothing"

"The Discovery School is not responsible for a student's personal possessions."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Does Discovery provide lockers or safes for students to safely store their personal possessions?  If not, it is unreasonable for Discovery to avoid responsibility for failure to provide adequate safeguards for student belongings.  Even prisons require an inventory for their inmates and are required to return all items upon release.  Certainly The Discovery School should at least provide the same.

Quotes from Program Documents:

"Letters and Packages"

"If there is a serious family incident shared in a letter, it is helpful to inform the family worker ahead of time.  This allows staff to anticipate the letter and be sensitive to the student's reaction.  Before mailing a package, please review Mail in Consent for Admissions form." [HEAL does not have a copy of the Consent for Admissions and cannot review this portion effectively as a result.]

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

We will address the issue of mail further in this review.  All incoming mail is opened in front of staff and we were unable to determine whether outgoing mail is censored or monitored based on the program description.  We believe outgoing mail is likely censored or read so the "family worker" can manipulate parents so they ignore their child if the child includes information regarding fraudulent or abusive practices by Discovery.

Quotes from Program Documents:

"THE CREST"

"The Crest is looked upon as an outward sign of the student's inward change.  Please review The Crest in Appendix A.  There are two basic steps for a student to earn the Crest:"

"1. The student asks the group for a "recommendation."  The group votes on the basis of the student's sincere efforts to make some basic changes in attitude, behavior, and relationships.  The recommendation is gained when a majority of the group votes in favor of the student's readiness for the Crest."

"2.  The student "writes in" asking the staff for the Crest.  The staff votes during the weekly staff meeting.  Crests are usually awarded after meals when all students and staff are assembled in the dining hall.  The goals met and the changes made by the student are affirmed by staff when the Crest is presented."

"Family Visits"

"Once a student has earned the Crest the student is eligible to earn regular family visits."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

The Crest isn't earned until students reach "level 3" or "Stage 3" of the Discovery level system.  Stage 3 happens many months after Stage 1.  In Stage 1, which lasts a minimum of 4 weeks, but, can last months as well depending on subjective group evaluations and staff recommendations, the student is receiving no formal academic classes.  As shown above, it takes 4 weeks and jumping through hoops to add even 1 legitimate academic class to a student's schedule and the same length of time is required before adding even one more legitimate academic class to the student's schdule for each additional class until 5 class hours are reached.  By the programs own admission that can take 6 months or more.  The point being that we are looking at about 6 months before children are allowed regular family visits and unsupervised visits with their family.  Policies like these are very indicative of an abusive program which is why we believe The Discovery School should be avoided.

Page 15 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"In order to keep the focus of the visit on the family, the following guidelines are recommended: 1. no telephone calls to or from peers, 2. no personal contacts with peers and 3. activities away from parents are to be supervised by an adult family member or approved responsible adult."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

The primary issue with denying the child contact with his peers and/or friends is that all children are being treated as having made bad peer choices even when the issue they are dealing with is a learning disability, trauma, depression, or some other issue where such denial of contact with their peers is unwarranted and detrimental to their health.  Promoting ongoing healthy peer relationships with non-Discovery friends is essential for a child's development.  Sources: http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/Pages/PDF/Peer_relationsANGmcI.pdf, http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/going-to-school/social/laws-of-friendship/, http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/12708/1/Importance-of-Childhood-Friendship.html, and  http://www.education.com/reference/article/peer-relations-middle-childhood/ 

Quotes from Program Documents:

"Recovery Dynamics"

"The students participating in group sessions are asked to challenge and motivate themselves toward their own recovery."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

HEAL believes our concerns regarding the Recovery Dynamics segments are effectively addressed in the reviews of pages 4 and 10 above.  Please see those sections for our concerns regarding the lack of volunteerism, use of coercion, and other issues related to group sessions in behavior modification settings.

Quotes from Program Documents:

"On-Campus Vocational Experience"

"On-campus positions are available to students who are interested in gaining an employment experience... A nominal incentive compensation is provided that is increased according to the student's experience and development."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Are children paid minimum wage?  Virginia law states the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour regardless of age of employee.  In addition, Virginia law bars minors under the age of 18 from working in construction or other hazardous fields, both of which are required under The Discovery School description which appears to be a violation of State Law.  Source: http://www.doli.virginia.gov/laborlaw/laborlaw_faqs_childlaborlawp1.html  In addition, we have found similar programs put children in upper levels in charge of children in lower levels (or Stages as the case may be).  This presents a serious concern for the safety of children at The Discovery School as well.  And, is another one of the warning signs of an abusive program.  See www.heal-online.org/warn.htm for more information.

Quotes from Program Documents:

"Length of Stay"

"The average length of stay ranges from 14 to 18 months."

"Readiness for discharge is based on a student's progress in the group, academic, family, and community settings."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

"Many residential treatment facilities and child inpatient units in the United States have been structured by way of motivational programming such as the point and/or level systems. On the surface, they appear to be a straightforward contingency management tool that is based on social learning theory and operant principles. In this article, the authors argue that the assumptions upon which point and level systems are based do not hold up to close empirical scrutiny or theoretical validity, and that point and level system programming is actually counterproductive with some children, and at times can precipitate dangerous clinical situations, such as seclusion and restraint. In this article, the authors critique point and level system programming and assert that continuing such programming is antithetical to individualized, culturally, and developmentally appropriate treatment, and the authors explore the resistance and barriers to changing traditional ways of “doing things.”"  Source:  http://www.thinkkids.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/5Mohr-et-al-2009.pdf

Page 16 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"The School begins developing post-program plans when the student enrolls."

"Problem Evaluations Inventories are sent out at 6 months and 2 years after discharge."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

One serious concern is that Discovery likely refers families to "transitional" or some other residential program from which they may receive a kickback or some other form of compensation.  This happens in many of these programs and based on Discovery's materials we believe it may be occurring here as well.

Discovery repeatedly used the word "discharge" to describe the tranfer, release, and/or graduation of students enrolled in their program.  Discharge is used in school settings to refer to students who leave without graduating.  How many children leave Discovery without graduating high school? 

The program claims to track a child's progress after Discovery for 2 years.  They should be able to answer some statistical questions as a result.  What percentage of discharged students are referred to other wilderness and/or residential schools or programs?  What percentage earn a high school diploma?  What percentage earn a GED?  What percentage are accepted to colleges and universities?  What percentage commit suicide?  What percentage return to Discovery or are referred to another program as a result of a parents answers to the inventory surveys?

Page 17 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"STAGES OF ENROLLMENT"

"Stated Purpose of Enrollment: To affect positive change (emotional growth and academic achievement) in a student's problematic behaviors and attitudes."

"In order to foster lasting change for the services resistant student, his or her opposition to change must be consistently confronted over a significant period of time.  Enrollment in the Discovery School of Virginia is designed to address the challenges presented in helping change resistant students become prodcutive members of their families and communities."

"However, in the structured group and academic setting a student's progress, what he or she is experiencing throughout enrollment and his or her readiness to return home is apparent within the six stages of enrollment as defined below."

"STAGE 1:"

"Adjustment to the Group Setting-presenting resistant to change:"

"Testing adult limit setting-requires frequent individual staff interventions (i.e. time out, out of group, physical restraint), writing angry and manipulative letters to parents"

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

This program uses a six "Stage"/level system.  Using such a level system is one of the primary warning signs of an abusive facility.  See www.heal-online.org/warn.htm for more information. 

It is clear by the stated purpose of the program that its primary objective is behavior modification through coercive thought reform.  It is also clear that this program uses a confrontational approach which has been denounced as ineffective and harmful. 

"Many residential treatment facilities and child inpatient units in the United States have been structured by way of motivational programming such as the point and/or level systems. On the surface, they appear to be a straightforward contingency management tool that is based on social learning theory and operant principles. In this article, the authors argue that the assumptions upon which point and level systems are based do not hold up to close empirical scrutiny or theoretical validity, and that point and level system programming is actually counterproductive with some children, and at times can precipitate dangerous clinical situations, such as seclusion and restraint. In this article, the authors critique point and level system programming and assert that continuing such programming is antithetical to individualized, culturally, and developmentally appropriate treatment, and the authors explore the resistance and barriers to changing traditional ways of “doing things.”"  Source:  http://www.thinkkids.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/5Mohr-et-al-2009.pdf

"The use of confrontational strategies in individual, group and family substance abuse counseling emerged through a confluence of cultural factors in U.S. history, pre-dating the development of methods for reliably evaluating the effects of such treatment. Originally practiced within voluntary peer-based communities, confrontational approaches soon extended to authority-based professional relationships where the potential for abuse and harm greatly increased. Four decades of research have failed to yield a single clinical trial showing efficacy of confrontational counseling, whereas a number have documented harmful effects, particularly for more vulnerable populations."  Source:  http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr/2007ConfrontationinAddictionTreatment.pdf

HEAL would recommend readers compare the Six Stages of Discovery's level system to Robert Jay Lifton's eight criteria of coercive thought reform.  Milieu Control and total isolation from the outside world is the first criteria for coercive thought reform as well as a primary condition of the Discovery program.  In addition, Doctrine over person is engaged in beginning with the first level of Discovery's behavior modification program.  The group is always elevated above the importance of the individual.  Also, we see self-sanctification through purity in the form of those individuals who have "earned" a "higher level" are given authority over others.  In addition, the group decides when an student advances and has authority in this regard from the moment of enrollment at Discovery. 

The use of physical restraint and isolation (often behavior modification programs use the word "time out" to describe what most would consider solitary confinement or isolation).  This is a serious issue that congress is trying to address and which has resulted in multiple deaths of children at schools and programs throughout the country.

"Introduced in House (05/08/2013) Keeping All Students Safe Act - Directs the Secretary of Education (Secretary) to establish minimum standards that: prohibit elementary and secondary school personnel from managing any student by using any mechanical or chemical restraint, physical restraint or escort that restricts breathing, or aversive behavioral intervention that compromises student health and safety; prohibit such personnel from using physical restraint or seclusion, unless such measures are required to eliminate an imminent danger of physical injury to the student or others and certain precautions are taken; require states and local educational agencies (LEAs) to ensure that a sufficient number of school personnel receive state-approved crisis intervention training and certification in first aid and certain safe and effective student management techniques; prohibit physical restraint or seclusion from being written into a student's education plan, individual safety plan, behavioral plan, or individual education program as a planned intervention; and require schools to establish procedures to notify parents in a timely manner if physical restraint or seclusion is imposed on their child."  Source:  https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/1893

On page 25 of the PDF of the program documents, you will see that physical restraint is used in order to redirect a child's behavior as well as in situations of imminent physical threat.  This is a serious concern because physical restraint is being used in inappropriate fashion when it is not absolutely necessary and endangers the safety of children and staff as a result. 

In addition, whenever a program warns you that regardless of your child's issues that they are lying to you when they are upset and/or reporting abuse, it is best to avoid that program.  Always believe your children.  They trust you and believe you would protect them from abuse, don't break that trust by allowing programs like Discovery to abuse them in your name and on your dime.

Page 18 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

[Stage 1 continued...]

"World Perspective-maintaining irrational world view; unrealistic future plans; living a contrary lifestyle"

"STAGE 2:"

"Assimilation to the Group (resistance to change continues, but starts making superficial behavioral adjustments)"

"Decreasing resistance to group feedback"

"Increasing compliance with group norms"

"When substance abuse is an issue, beginning to acknowledge problematic behavior and beginning to participate in on-campus recovery program"

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

What does Discovery consider an "irrational world view"?  What does Discovery consider "unrealistic future plans"?  What does Discovery consider "living a contrary lifestyle"?  The world perspective section seems to be using euphemisms to describe what may be sexual orientation or other issues to which the program and/or parents may have unreasonable and irrational expectations themselves.

HEAL would recommend readers compare the Six Stages of Discovery's level system to Psychologist Robert Jay Lifton's eight criteria of coercive thought reform.  So far in this review, we've identified Discovery engaging in at least three of the eight criteria set forth by Lifton. As shown above, Discovery denies enrollees freedom of association and requires that all issues be exclusively handled within the program and/or the group.  This falls under the mystical manipulation portion of Lifton's criteria. 

In addition, confession is also a key component of this program and forced false confessions are common at programs like Discovery so they can use those forced false confessions as a basis to keep the child and deplete the family bank account even longer.  Now, we've identified that Discovery meets at least five of Lifton's eight criteria.  These are serious concerns for the safety and welfare of both the child and the family.

Page 19 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"STAGE 3:"

"Group Progress-working toward and earning of Crest-(resistance to change decreases in order to gain concrete reward...Besides immediately enhancing self-esteem and status within the group the Crest comes with additional trust, responsibility and opportunity...Specifically, the Crest is a cloth patch that is an outward symbol of inward change.  The patch is worn on a dress shirt for off-campus and public relations activities.)"

"Increased reliance on staff for feedback and support"

"Increased motivation during group setting and practical life skills activities"

"When substance abuse is an issue, increasing participation in on-campus recovery program and beginning to attend off-campus 12 step meetings"

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

The Crest identifies a change in status and may signify a child being given authority over other children in the program.  This again appears to be an example of Lifton's self-sanctification through purity in the eight criteria for coercive thought reform.  The group rules and the program identifies itself as requiring blind adherence to program dictates and gives its leadership as the only authority regarding any violations or abuses that may occur. (PDF page 24)  For additional concerns regarding the group setting, please see review of page 09 above.

In addition, you can see that in order to "earn the privilege" of more class hours and visits with family, a child must choose to participate in the on-campus recovery program.  It is inappropriate, cruel, and inhumane to isolate a child from his/her family.  This is also addressed above. 

We see dispensed existence, another of Lifton's criteria, in the form of forcing children to represent the program in a public relations capacity.  This is a concern for multiple reasons, including the fact that many survivors of institutional abuse have reported that the program required they recruit a replacement for themselves before the program would recommend them for release/discharge/graduation.  This is exploitation, plain and simple.  It may also be a form of extortion as well.

In addition, a thorough review of the language used and the unorthodox meanings provided by Discovery of existing words shows they meet loaded language and the milieu control and other aspects suggest a requirement of total adherence to the group with no consideration for individuality.  This means based on our review, that this Discovery program meets all eight criteria of Lifton's coercive thought reform.  This is unacceptable.

Page 20 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"STAGE 4:"

"Group Progress-the Post-Crest Regression (resistance to change increases.  Once concrete reward has been gained, efforts tend to decrease."

"Stage 1 problems again begin to manifest"

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

It is common for programs like Discovery to demote children to earlier levels/Stages when they should be close to graduating or leaving the program when assessed with reasonable standards.  HEAL believes this STAGE description readies parents for the inevitable "starting over" consequence in which children lose all of their "privileges" of "school" and "contact with family" and have to "earn" them all over again.  This is a serious concern.

Page 21 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"STAGE 5:"

"Group Progress-learning to change for self (resistance to change diminishing/desire for abstract rewards increasing"

"Able to consistently represent the program and present self positively in public and to guest of the program"

"Demonstrating positive leadership qualities"

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

What does Discovery mean by "abstract rewards"?  Abstract rewards have been found to lack satisfaction on the part of the recipient.  Source: http://www.psywb.com/content/1/1/3  "The Positive Emotional Impact of Sad Music - Pacific Standard "Music-evoked sadness can be appreciated not only as an aesthetic, abstract reward, but (it) also plays a role in well-being, by providing consolation as well as regulating negative moods and emotions.""  Source:  http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/positive-emotional-impact-sad-music-93607.  HEAL was unable to find many references to "abstract rewards" in existing literature regarding behavioral and mental health. 

Why are children and students charged with representing the program and public relations for the program along with program maintenance and leading group?  What exactly does the staff do besides rake in money and use the kids? 

What does Discovery meant by "demonstrating positive leadership qualities"?  Does this mean acting as staff and leading group sessions?  According to descriptions under STAGE 5, yes.  This is a serious concern.

Pages 22-23 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"STAGE 6:"

"Group Progress-readiness for discharge from program"

"Family Progress"

"Have a plan for or is actively seeking gainful employment"

"Increasingly receptive to professional interventions in home community"

"APPENDIX B-Grievance Procedure"

"In the event that a student or parent has a serious complaint about the school as it affects the student, then the following procedure will be employed:"

"Students will talk with their group staff (group leader and/or group supervisor) to resolve the problem.  Parents will contact family work staff to resolve the problem."

"In the event no resolution is reached, then the student orparent may contact the Program Director for a conference regarding that particular problem."

"If it is impossible to reach an agreement with the Program Director, then a conference will be arranged with the Director."

"If this conference is not mutually satisfactory, then the Director will arrange with the placing agency representative or a mutually agreed upon mediator to serve as a mediator."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

Does Discovery recommend local professionals and what is the process used to determine quality of service?  Does Discovery engage in any compensation or kickback relationships with other professionals? 

A serious concern is that no option is provided in the grievance procedure for contacting the licensing agency, child protective services, and law enforcement when abuse or other criminal acts are a factor.  In addition, if all complaints have to go through an exhaustive program-chain which may take weeks, then they will fall outside of events that law enforcement can effectively investigate.  This creates a barrier to justice and accountability and is a serious problem.

Page 24 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"APPENDIX D -- Student's Rights and Responsibilities"

"You will receive an allowance each week.  It is your responsibility to budget this money in order to take care of your personal hygiene needs, any fines you incur, to purchase letter supplies, and to pay for the night out activity on which the group decides."

"Your mail is not monitored or censured; however, incoming packages must be opened in the presence of staff to assure no prohibited items are taken to the group."

"Student Rights"

"to be treated with dignity"

"to have my complaints heard and addressed"

"APPENDIX E -- Behavior Management"

"The student and a staff member will work on project together until the student is ready to return to the group and work out the original problem.  The removal of a student from a group must be approved by the Program Director or Administrator on Duty."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

How much money is given in allowance each week?  Do children have to earn a specific level before receiving an allowance?  How much does the program charge for hygiene and letter supplies?  What kinds of fines can a student incur while enrolled?  Can students opt out of the night out activity if they would rather save their allowance to cover other costs?  Why are students being charged for basic needs when the program is receiving approximately $5,000 per month per child?  Shouldn't basic needs such as personal hygiene and letter supplies be provided?  Even prisons provide basic hygiene and letter supplies to indigent prisoners.  (Sources: http://www.prisontalk.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-482035.html and http://www.vbsocaremart.com/topic/20-indigent-inmates.aspx)Why are these children being treated worse than prisoners?

HEAL would need to see the Student Agreement and/or Student Handbook to determine whether mail is being monitored and censured.  While the parent handbook claims it isn't, we've seen programs use the "open in front of staff" and other such language to explain why they have any access to the child's mail at all.  And, since children cannot report violations without being punished or accused of "manipulation" by the program (see review of page 17 above), we believe the program does not respect the privacy rights of children enrolled in their program.

What does Discovery mean by "dignity"?  The standard definitions of "dignity" include the quality of being worthy or honored and having high rank or position.  (Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dignity).  While such may describe to an extent how children are treated after they've reached the Crest level (level 3), it certainly is not how they are treated during earlier Stages/levels of this program which we have shown engages in cruel and inhuman treatment.  We feel these claims regarding student rights are misleading.

In addition, complaints regarding abuse are not reported to the proper authorities in a timely manner and this results in those complaints not being effectively addressed.  This remains a serious concern.

Who determines whether a student needs to be removed from the group?  Are group leaders other students or staff?  And, what kinds of projects are engaged in during one-on-one interventions?

Page 25 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"Physical Restraint  Physical touch and restraint consist of any act by the staff that involves the use of bodily contact and/or least restrictive force with a student as a method of redirecting inappropriate behavior or protecting student who is a threat to him/herself or others...Only staff trained in The Mandt System may initiate physical contact during a crisis with a student."

"All behavior management documentation resulting in physical touch or restraint will be reviewed by an Administrator trained in The Mandt System, and processed with all staff involved in the intervention."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

The reasonable standard for using physical restraint and/or physical interventions is when there is an immediate and imminent threat to the individual or others.  This program admittedly acts outside the norms of what is appropriate use of restraint.  This is a serious concern.

"Introduced in House (05/08/2013) Keeping All Students Safe Act - Directs the Secretary of Education (Secretary) to establish minimum standards that: prohibit elementary and secondary school personnel from managing any student by using any mechanical or chemical restraint, physical restraint or escort that restricts breathing, or aversive behavioral intervention that compromises student health and safety; prohibit such personnel from using physical restraint or seclusion, unless such measures are required to eliminate an imminent danger of physical injury to the student or others and certain precautions are taken; require states and local educational agencies (LEAs) to ensure that a sufficient number of school personnel receive state-approved crisis intervention training and certification in first aid and certain safe and effective student management techniques; prohibit physical restraint or seclusion from being written into a student's education plan, individual safety plan, behavioral plan, or individual education program as a planned intervention; and require schools to establish procedures to notify parents in a timely manner if physical restraint or seclusion is imposed on their child."  Source:  https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/1893

Are employees who utilize physical restraint properly trained and certified?  What agency or organization trains and certifies Discovery staff for use of The Mandt System and any other form of restraint that may be used?  Are all staff certified through http://www.mandtsystem.com/?  It appears at best to be a 5 day (3 of which are mandatory) course provided through registration through the above website? 

"The information in this program outline is provided by the program representative and edited by the CEBC staff. The Mandt System has been reviewed by the CEBC in the area of: Behavioral Management Programs for Adolescents in Child Welfare, but lacks the necessary research evidence to be given a Scientific Rating."  Source:  http://www.cebc4cw.org/program/the-mandt-system/detailed.  So, The Mandt System is not an evidence-based model for restraint and physical intervention and is experimental at best.  This is also a serious concern.

Pages 26-27 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"APPENDIX G -- Rules of Disclosure"

"Report of recent physical or sexual abuse of a younger child by a student"

"In the event a student reports recent sexual abuse of a younger child, the following procedures will be followed:"

"The student is referred for evaluation."

"A Serious Incident Report is completed."

"The appropriate agency is notified."

"Upon a professional's recommendation, the family is contacted."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

How often to older children in this program physically or sexually abuse younger children enrolled in this program?  Are these crimes reported to the police?  What does Discovery mean by "appropriate agency"?  And, why is the family not immediately notified when their child is a perpetrator or victim of crime at Discovery?

Page 29 of Program Documents PDF

Quotes from Program Documents:

"We do have a school dress code and require that the clothing be free of references to alcohol, drugs, sex, musical groups, and any other negative symbolism."

"Please note that the sleeping bag needs to be rated to at least zero degrees and be compatible enough to fit easily on a backpack."

"Prior to enrollment, the student will be assigned a laundry number.  Please use a permanent marker to mark all clothing with this number... Once enrolled, the student is required to maintain laundry marks on all personal clothing."

"After the student has adjusted to The Discovery School group life, the staff will be in a better position to decide what additional items the student may possess and use responsibly.  These items may include: camera, fishing equipment, musical instrument, etc.  Please check with your family worker before sending miscellaneous items."

"Due to the limited storage space at campsite students may only have two personal books and a Bible or other religious book at campsite at any one time.  Personal books must be positive and/or educational.  A book brought from home or purchased by a student must be approved by the Principal before it can be taken to campsite.  Books having vulgar language, sexually or violently graphic language, or unhealthy content are not permitted."

The Discovery School is not responsible for the student's personal clothing or possessions.  Make sure all items are adequately marked with the student's laundry number to ensure identification and ownership."

HEAL Questions and Concerns:

What examples can Discovery provide to define what they mean by "negative symbolism"?  At some programs, the Star of David is considered "negative or occult symbolism".  This is a concern.

Children should carry no more than 10-15% of their body weight in a backpack.  Source: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/learning/backpack.html  The average weight of youth age 11 is approximately 80 pounds.  Source: http://www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-too-short-and-heavy and the average weight of a youth age 17 is between 120-150 pounds depending on sex, height, and other factors. Source: http://teens.lovetoknow.com/Average_Height_and_Weight_for_Teenager  11-year olds should have backpacks that weigh no more than 12 pounds.  17-year olds should have backpacks that weigh no more than 22.5 pounds.  A typical zero degree sleeping bag weighs 3 pounds or more depending on model.  Source: http://www.amazon.com/Kelty-Cosmic-Degree-Down-Sleeping/dp/B004O706O0.  So, for younger and smaller children, that is 25% of their overall backpack weight.  Most wilderness/outdoor programs admit to requiring all children to carry between 45-50 pounds per day.  (Source:  page 2 of http://www.heal-online.org/cfreer.pdf).  And, that is double the acceptable pounds that even the 17 year olds should be carrying.  This is a serious concern because carrying heavy backpacks creates severe long-term adverse physical injury and can even stunt growth. 

"The ill-effects of carrying heavy schoolbags - Read Health Articles & Blogs at TheHealthSite.com. In other words, a heavy bag puts the child’s health and physical development at risk which can hamper his/her overall growth. "  Source: http://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/the-ill-effects-of-carrying-heavy-schoolbags/.  We have found these programs are repeatedly not at all interested in doing what is best for children enrolled in their programs.  The Discovery School  is shamefully no different.

Not only does Discovery require all clothing be permanently marked with the child's number, but, all belongings as well.  Other programs that claim to  use this system for identifying personal items have used this number to address the children as well, in essence, replacing the child's name with the assigned number.  This is a serious concern as it suggests an internment camp or prison model, not a proper special education  or therapeutic model.

What examples can Discovery provide of books it has banned or found to contain "unhealthy content"?  Would books for youth like the Harry Potter series or Twilight series be allowed?  When youth are allowed music, what music is banned and what music is accepted?

HEAL's Recommendation:

Do not enroll your child in this program nor any similar program.  We believe this program is engaging in methods and practices that are harmful, ineffective, and not in the best interest of children and families served.  Please see complete review above for more information.

 

 Last Updated: April 13th, 2015

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