About 4,000 Delaware County residents and officials recently received a letter alleging abusive conditions at the Family Foundation School in Hancock.
Brian Lombrowski, president of the Brooklyn-based Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth, said the letter was sent out by the group to gather information about school conditions.
Jeff Brain, the Family Foundation School's vice president for external relations and acting director of admissions, said the institution is a private therapeutic boarding school for at-risk teens.
On April 24, 2008, Jon Martin-Crawford, a former student at the school and an adviser to the Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth, testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor about abuse he said he witnessed while at the school from 1995-97, when he was 16 to 18 years old.
Following Martin-Crawford's testimony, Brain wrote the following response:
"We will not dispute his testimony. His experiences are his own and will always remain so, regardless of anything anyone says or does.
"Rather, we wish to unequivocally state: we deeply regret that anyone who has come through our program feels in any way damaged by their experience."
Lombrowski, 29, said he was never a student at the Family Foundation, and that plans for the countywide mailing began after Martin-Crawford's testimony but were delayed because the mailing list was compiled by going through the white pages of Delaware County phone books.
The two-page mailing begins with a page that states, "Attention citizens of Delaware County, a school in your county called the Family Foundation School at 431 Chapel Hill Road in Hancock was recently cited in a federal investigation for institutionalized child abuse."
It asks that anyone with information about the school contact the group and visit www.TheFamilySchoolTruth.com. The second page is a list of excerpts from seven former students' testimonials.
The website alleges the Family Foundation School "withholds food, sleep and communication from the student's own family and friends as forms of punishment. The Family School staff violently restrains nonviolent students."
Brain said: "All of the allegations are categorically untrue or grossly exaggerated. In fact, those that were identified were investigated by us, as well as by Social Services and determined to be unfounded.
"Our students participate with members of the local community through church, Scouting, Rotary, Job Corps, Sullivan County BOCES and various other community service projects in our area. Our hope is to make an opportunity out of this unfortunate situation by getting more people to learn about us directly."
Brain said the group's actions and letter are a repeat of a situation that took place last year when an aunt, unhappy with her sister's choice to enroll her two nieces at the school, sent copies of the same Internet testimonials to Delaware County officials and other local representatives.
Brain said Delaware County Department of Social Services Commissioner William Moon directly dealt with the aunt's concerns and informed her of his findings.
He also said that in October 2008, during the school's weeklong site inspection by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, the Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth, with the believed support of the aunt, took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper.
"That ad is the exact cover letter of the letter currently being mailed," Brain said.
Moon said Monday that testimonies and accusations in the letter are based on past issues.
"Eight to nine years ago, particularly in the 1990s, we did offer the school some professional advice and input on treatment methodologies we had concerns about," Moon said.
Many of the accusations included in the letter and on www.TheFamilySchoolTruth.com and www.CAFETY.org date back to the 1990s and early 2000s.
"The same problems we were concerned about in the 1990s seem to be the problems they are highlighting," Moon said. "But our contact with the school during the last five to eight years has never been negative."
Moon said Family Foundation School officials took the advice offered by DSS officials and fired staff members who were interacting with children in the wrong way.
Lombrowski said the concerns about the alleged continued abuse and treatment methods come from testimonials received from former students who have attended the school as recently as 2008.
Lombrowski said that a couple of months ago, some alumni of Family Foundation met with the school's leaders to discuss whether past practices have changed in response to changes in state Department of Education regulations, but they weren't satisfied by the answers.
Lombrowski said the only response to the mailing was the e-mail he received from The Daily Star. He added that the websites have had more hits following the distribution of the letter.
Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northrup said he has occasionally dealt with students at the Family Foundation School for minor infractions but has never had any complaints about abuse.
The school is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations.